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World Mental Health Day Workplace Mental Health Logo
10th October is World Mental Health Day. With mental ill health costing UK employers an estimated £34.9 billion each year (or £1,300 for every employee), the subject of World Mental Health Day 2017, “Mental Health in the Workplace”, is certainly timely and topical.

Mental distress and ill health affect every workplace. According to the Centre for Mental Health, at any time one worker in five will be experiencing depression, anxiety or stress related problems. How many people in your workplace could be struggling with their wellbeing under the radar?

The Centre for Mental Health’s research attributes the £34.9 billion of business costs relating to poor mental ill health to:

  • £10.6 billion in sickness absence
  • £21.2 billion a year in reduced productivity at work. ‘Presenteeism’ accounts for 1.5 times as much working time lost as absenteeism and costs more to employers because it is more common among higher-paid staff.
  • £3.1 billion a year in replacing staff who leave their jobs because of mental ill health.

The good news is that there are simple steps that organisations can take to drastically reduce these costs and improve the wellbeing of their workforce – and in turn improve their organisational health too. Savings can be delivered through:

  • Awareness training for staff and line managers to increase knowledge and understanding of mental health issues. A key benefit of delivering this training for all staff is that it normalises conversations about mental health. I remember delivering mental health awareness training for a local organisation and one of the delegates wrote on their feedback sheet that the course “made it OK not to be OK”. Following the course, one of the noticeable differences in the workplace was around behaviours: colleagues were more understanding of each other. People became much more confident and willing to talk about challenges they were facing either at work or at home and provided peer to peer support. Talking about mental health became normal and natural.
  • Prevention of mental health issues that are work-related. There are some key tools which I have found useful in supporting employers to identify and minimise sources of stress, as well as making a positive commitment to improving the mental wellbeing of staff. The Health and Safety Executive’s management standards on stress provides a useful audit tool to review potential sources of stress including demands, control, support, relationships, roles and change. I have also found the Mindful Employer Charter a valuable tool to help employers work towards better practice around mental health at all stages of the employment process, from recruitment to ongoing support.
  • Better access to help for employees, particularly support which enables individuals to continue working whilst receiving help. You may have access to employee counselling services through your insurer or benefits provider. Do make sure that all employees know how to access these schemes. Many workplaces have designated emergency first aiders, but does your workplace have a mental health first aider? Given that this is the leading cause of absenteeism, it certainly makes sense. I thoroughly recommend the Mental Health First Aid qualification. I found this one of the most useful courses I have ever done and received excellent training delivered by Bristol Mind. As well as becoming better placed to support individuals experiencing mental distress, the course gives you the knowledge to promote positive mental health at work.
  • Effective rehabilitation for those who need to take time off work, including agreeing regular contact with the employee during periods of absence and a supportive return to work plan. The charity Mind has a great booklet on how to support staff experiencing mental health problem which is available free online.

The Centre for Mental Health estimates that taking these four simple steps to improve workplace mental health could save UK employers £8billion per year. With a £34.9billion price tag attached to doing nothing, the business case (and the ethical case) are certainly powerful. 

Research by CIPD published in July 2016 shows that whilst a third of people are affected by mental health issues during their working lives, less than half of those affected would feel confident talking to their employer about the problem.

Are you talking about mental health in your workplace? My one-day Mental Health Awareness workshop brings people together to learn about signs and symptoms of different common mental health conditions, look at potential sources of stress and how to mitigate them and how to look after our own and others' wellbeing. 

And finally...I would like to end by talking about you. What are you doing today to improve your mental health? We all need to look after our mental health just as much as our physical health. So be kind to yourself today and every day. If you need some inspiration, check out the NHS's 5 steps to mental wellbeing


If you would like help with improving wellbeing - and performance - in your organisation, get in touch via the contact page or call 01249 701486.