Supporting Mental Health at Work
Mental health problems can affect anyone at any time. Whether that be from something at work or something in our personal lives, 1 in 4 adults in the UK will experience mental health struggles in their life. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being – meaning it impacts how we handle stress, build relationships with others, and how we make decisions. Those are three major factors on being successful in the workplace, there’s a lot that employers can be doing to ensure that employees feel fully supported in their organisation regarding their mental health.
Mental health comes in varying different forms and in varying different severities. It includes forms like anxiety, depression, phobic anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Everyone is somewhere on the mental health spectrum, and we’re all effected in different ways. For example, life occurrences can cause us to have temporary mental health issues, or people can just be wired to having long-term struggles with mental health.
Impacts of mental health struggles can range from lack of sleep and panic attacks, to difficulty concentrating and low confidence. Since such a large percentage of our workforce will face these struggles at some point during their careers, it’s important to ensure there are the correct policies and programmes in place to help us avoid the negative impact that it can have.
Research from Acas has shown some very concerning statistics surrounding mental health in the workplace:
- 76% of those under the age of 35 have felt stressed or anxious about work in the past 12 months.
- Less than 1 in 10 employees say that their organisation is good at preventing stress and anxiety.
- Those with mental health conditions lose their jobs every year at around double the rate of those with good mental health.
- Less than half of employees, 43%, would talk to their manager about their issues with their mental health.
- Only 39% of organisations have policies or systems in place to support employees with common mental health problems.
It’s estimated that the cost of ill mental health to UK employers annually is between £33 billion and £42 billion. £8 billion of that is a result of absenteeism, where employees who are struggling with their mental health take time off as a result. A further £8 billion of that is due to staff turnover, where employees feel that because of their mental health – they either can’t work, feel like they need to find a new employer, or even cases of employment termination. The most shocking figure, however, is that £17 billion to £26 billion is lost due to presenteeism, meaning that employees are coming to work anyway but are not engaged, so there are losses in productivity and output of work.
Good Mental Health in the Workplace
Employees with good mental health are likely to work more productively, be able to build positive relationships with colleagues, have good attendance, and make positive contributions to the workplace. When we build a workplace culture that supports and proactively promotes positive mental health, those who struggle are much more likely to benefit from improved mental health.
Knowing that there is a support system in place, and a team that accept these issues, can help to increase productivity and engagement amongst employees. But when there’s a toxic workplace culture, beyond causing employees to leave, it can actually cause retained staff to see a decline in their mental health – even when not having struggled with it before.
Given that so many of us will face mental health struggles, it’s time for organisations to be more open minded about their approach to dealing with the issues. In 2017, the UK government commissioned the Chief Executive of Mind, Paul Farmer, and Dennis Stevenson, to review the role that organisations can play to better support individuals with mental health conditions in the workplace. Their study concluded that beneath the stigma surrounding mental health, the UK face a significant mental health challenge at work – through results such as 300,000 people with long term mental health issues losing their jobs each year.
What Can We Do?
Produce, implement, and communicate a mental health at work strategy
If you’re going to successfully implement a better mental health and well-being strategy, you need to create a set outline and guidelines for different procedures. This ranges from small aspects from providing good working conditions, to monitoring mental health, and putting accessible tools and support in place. Our next few points outline the key things to consider!
Promote awareness throughout the organisation
It’s just as important for all employees to be onboard with mental health initiatives than it is for management. Showing your commitment to improving mental health in the workplace may spark employees to be more mindful of their colleagues, which in turn helps to improve ill mental health when there’s a good understanding.
Even if management are onboard and trying their best to make improvements, this is likely to be unsuccessful until it’s routed in organisational culture and everyone in the organisation is trying to create a positive and supporting environment.
Consider an external consultant or training
Employees will benefit from receiving training around maintaining positive mental health. This training can include aspects like organising fun or productive work activities for teams, how unacceptable conduct around mental health will be dealt with, how to spot the signs of ill mental health, and who they can go to if they need advice and support.
Because the nature of work is changing and the needs of every organisation will be different, hiring an external consultant can help to implement the necessary changes. They can analyse the current state of your organisation and point out what should be changed and implemented. There are many options for this type of service, with organisations such as Mind having this on offer.
Have a ‘mental health champion’
35% of people surveyed think that they would be less likely to get promoted if they speak to their manager about their mental health. 80% of employers also reported that they had no cases of employees disclosing a mental health condition.
It’s clear that a lot of people who struggle with mental health would prefer not to talk to their management. Whether that be for fear of prejudice or just generally feeling like they can’t, having a mental health champion can help in these scenarios. Having someone in the organisation who can give a greater focus on mental health procedures and supporting employees means that staff have someone to turn to that isn’t their manager, hopefully helping to alleviate any concerns.
Learn to spot the signs
While we should never make assumptions on how others are feeling, it is important to understand some of the key signs so that we know when we might need to take action. The signs can include:
- Changes in standard of work
- Changes in mood or how they interact in the workplace
- Appearing tired or having reduced interest in their work
- Increases in sickness absence or punctuality
- Habit changes, such as increase in smoking or changes in diet
Of course, not everyone who experiences struggles with their mental health with exhibit obvious signs, as we all cope and react in different ways. It’s important for management to ensure they’re checking in with employees, and letting them know that they can be open and honest about how they’re feeling.
Improve the disclosure process
You can encourage openness both in the recruitment process and throughout the organisation, while making sure that employees are aware that the information is required so that you can make the appropriate changes and adjustments needed to support any ongoing issues.
When an employee knows this information is needed for these reasons, it shows a commitment to improving standards and as a results, they’ll more than likely be more open to discussing their problems.
Investing in improving and supporting the mental health of your employees has proven return on investment. Deloitte conducted a study that shown the average return for every £1 spent was approximately £4.20 (with a range between 40p and £9), with findings in academic literature also backing the results.
The environment and organisation we work in is one of the biggest contributors to our mental health. Working in an environment where we feel supported and know that mental health issues are taken seriously and managed effectively is going to have an impact on the way we feel as a whole. Mental health accounts for 12.5% of all sick days in the UK, and in certain industries this percentage gets a lot higher. There’s long been a fear culture of talking about these types of issues in the workplace, but the more accepting and transparent organisations become about their commitment to solving the issues, the more it will become standard practice.