Research by the mental health charity MIND indicates that a culture of fear and silence around mental health is costly to employers. With more than one in five working adults experiencing difficulties caused by their mental health in any given year every organization is likely to be affected.

The 2011 Department of Health mental health outcome strategy “No Health Without Mental Health” stated that “mental ill health is the single largest cause of disability in the UK, contributing up to 22.8% of the total burden, compared to 15.9% for cancer and 16.2% for cardiovascular disease”.

Despite a more positive attitude towards mental ill-health in recent years, stigma around the topic remains. 48% of people say they would not feel comfortable talking to their employer about mental health problems (National Attitudes to Mental Illness Survey 2014). As a cause of sickness absence, mental health has overtaken musculo-skeletal disorders and is estimated to cost business £1032 per employee per year (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). According to the 2015 CIPD survey on sickness absence, those who meet their sickness absence targets were actively supporting the health and well-being of their workforce.

NICE indicate that in a company of 1000 employees, mental ill-health loses an organisation £835,000pa. A saving of £250,000 (30%) per year could be made if prevention or early identification of problems were tackled. Compared to savings on tackling obesity or smoking in the workplace where companies could save £126,000 and £128,000 respectively it is clear that tackling poor mental well-being needs to be regarded as equally if not more important to any business.

The most successful organisations will have/ be aiming to have a mental health and wellbeing strategy. The “process” adopted to implement such a strategy will make a huge difference to its success, with involvement of the wider workforce and communication being crucial. Use of the WHO’s healthy workplace model (Burton 2010) offers guidance on how to get started. The WHO recommends:

  • leadership engagement based on core values
  • involve workers and their representatives
  • gap analysis
  • learn from others
  • sustainability

Tackling mental health in the workplace needs to be seen in the wider context of a wellbeing strategy. The following actions can support such a strategy and whilst some may offer a “quick-win” it should be made clear that as “stand-alone” actions they are likely to have less impact on the success of a business.

  • Flexible working options to improve work/life balance
  • Training for line managers to more effectively identify and manage stress
  • Employee Assistance Programmes
  • Easy access to talking therapy/CBT
  • Early involvement of Occupational Health
  • Risk assessments/stress audits/surveys
  • A clear policy on and guidance relating to stress, mental health and well-being
  • Changes in work organization, role adaption
  • Reasonable adjustments
  • Stress/resilience training available to the wider workforce
  • Use of HSE’s management standards
  • Access to activities such as Mindfulness, Headspace App or relevant fitness or relaxation classes
  • Regular health promotions relevant to the whole workforce

Other considerations:

  • Does the organizations culture enable poor mental health to be acknowledged and responded to in a positive way?
  • Where do employees go when they need privacy or time out?
  • What barriers could prevent employees being open about mental health?
  • How do employees know that they are valued?
  • How much control do employees have over the design of their work?
  • How well is change communicated?
  • Is there an effective route for staff opinions to be heard?
  • How do organisations know if staff are being bullied, harassed or discriminated against?
  • What offerings are made that allow staff the time needed to access resources that could help prevent or support poor mental health?
  • Could any environmental factors in the workplace have a negative impact on well-being?
  • How does wellbeing fit into the organisation’s mission statement?

Mindshift Consultancy can support your business in dealing with mental health.

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