Mental Health in the Workplace

If you work a full-time job, you probably spend around 40 hours a week at your place of employment. If you are suffering from mental health challenges, however, that work environment can be a difficult place to thrive.

Unfortunately, mental health is one of the least talked about issues in the world, particularly when it comes to the workplace. While employers have undoubtedly made some important strides in promoting good mental and physical health in the workplace, there is still a pretty long way to go.

Workplace Mental Health: The Stats

  • Nearly 14.7% of people in the workplace suffer from mental health issues. That means, if you employ 50 people, 7 or 8 of them may be struggling with issues such as anxiety or depression at any one time.
  • According to HR Review, poor mental health costs employers in the UK some £42 billion a year.
  • Research in 2015 found that 12.7% of all the sick days taken in the UK were down to mental health issues.

Why Good Mental Health in the Workplace Important

Businesses are focused on making the most of their resources, improving productivity and that all-important bottom line. They think issues such as mental health are less of a priority.

  • If someone is off work because of an issue such as stress, anxiety or depression, you have to find ways to handle their workload, for example, by employing someone temporarily at an extra cost. You’ve also got the time and money that it takes to train someone new to do a particular job.
  • If you take mental health in the workplace seriously, you are likely to see an improvement in engagement and productivity with a much lower staff turnover and less in the way of recruitment costs.
  • Having an employee health and wellbeing initiative in place not only shows existing workers that you care but also helps to attract new ones, particularly top performers such as managers and leaders.

Many business owners will sit back and look at the costs and this is perfectly acceptable. There are, however, also cost-effective ways to implement a workable wellbeing strategy that delivers for employees and offers a significant return on investment.

How to Encourage Good Mental Health

Employers have a duty of care and legal responsibility to protect their employees from injury and illness under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and the Equality Act.

Mental health can be such a difficult issue to talk about that providing the right climate in the first place is absolutely essential. This means having a process in place that supports people who may have a problem and which ensures they get the help they need.

Your approach also needs to be proactive as well as reactive. That means finding ways to ensure that staff keep a healthy work/life balance and feel able to discuss issues if they arise.

The reticence to talk about mental health issues is one of the biggest barriers that you will face. You should ensure that senior staff such as line managers, who will be the first to deal with such challenges, are appropriately trained and have a clear idea of what their responsibilities are. They need to be able to spot the signs that someone is struggling and be able to address the issue in a sensitive and empathetic manner.

Starting that conversation with an employee you feel may be having problems is obviously challenging. A manager may be fearful of saying the wrong thing or the employee may simply not want to open up.

Three Key Approaches to Better Mental Health Management

  • Prevention: You put in processes that enable staff to maintain a healthy work/life balance and provide safety nets that reduce the potential for mental health issues.
  • Intervention: You spot potential mental health problems early and intervene in a positive and empathetic way.
  • Protection: You support staff if they have mental health issues and put in processes to ensure their return.

Mental health in the workplace is something that we should all be concerned about. With stress levels rising higher than ever, there’s plenty employers can do right now to support their staff and make the work environment both happier and more productive.