In many workplaces mental health is the elephant in the room. Often, employees are too scared to approach management with this topic and problems spiral. Looking after the mental health of your employees makes business sense. Mental health problems are the leading cause of long-term sickness absence in the UK, costing an average of £1,035 per employee per year (ONS, 2009). Right now, 1 in 6 employees are dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety or depression (Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2007). This can stop people performing at their best. Many people find it difficult to broach the topic of mental health and find it easier to talk about stress, rather than their mental health wellbeing. As such you will be more likely to hear a colleague talking about feeling stressed, than you would hear colleague opening up about experiencing anxiety. Stress isn’t a mental health diagnosis, but stress has been linked to mental health. Prolonged periods of stress which are not managed can trigger mental health problems or make existing problems worse.
Research by international healthcare group Bupa has shown that 44% of adults currently feel stressed, with over a third of these (36%) stating they’ve felt stressed for more than six months, and over a quarter (28%) reporting that they’ve been stressed for more than a year. (Bupa, 2017; About mental health).
A survey by JLT Employee Benefits found 55% of 120 people surveyed thought work was the most stressful part of their life, followed by money at 19% and family at 13%. Just 10% of people said that relationships were their biggest cause of stress, with health coming last at just 3%. Despite these figures people often don’t feel able to ask for help when they’re struggling (Populus, 2013).
Most workplace mental health support systems are not put in place until an employee is already ill and may be on sick leave – something that costs the business time and money and probably adds to your workload. Employers need to address stress by identifying and managing the key contributing factors within the workplace, as well as giving employees the tools to identify and obtain support for any mental health issues they are experiencing. It’s much easier to deal with problems at an early stage than wait until they reach crisis point. Proactive employers support employees who are experiencing mental health problems to cope and recover.
To effectively support staff to recover and return to work as quickly as possible you should:
- be proactive and get involved as early as possible if someone is unwell
- take a person centred approach and be sensitive to the individual’s needs
- be positive, professional and supportive throughout the process
- maintain contact with people throughout their sickness absence
Staff who don’t feel supported and valued, or who feel that their employers are not taking their mental health seriously, are more likely to leave. This brings about recruitment and training costs and loss of knowledge to the business. If employees aren’t given the right support, the costs to your business can mount up. It’s estimated that you can save 30% or more of these costs by taking simple steps to manage mental health in the workplace. The support people receive from employers is key in determining how well and how quickly they are able to get back to peak performance.
Standing by people when they experience a mental health problem is not only about keeping hold of a valuable staff member – it also sends a message about your organisation’s values. All employees need to see that their organisation lives its values and treats its people well. Trust and integrity are key drivers of engagement and organisations that support staff reap the benefits in terms of loyalty and commitment from all employees.
Our sister company FusionHR can provide you with proactive support to help you establish a wellbeing strategy and fulfil your responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 improving mental wellbeing for all staff. They offer a comprehensive Health & Wellbeing support package including Occupational Health and Counselling to help employers tackle the causes of mental health problems and boost employee engagement. Just give our friendly team a call and they will put you in touch with someone who can help. Call 01924 907319.