Every Organisation in Britain is affected by poor mental health in their workforce.  One in six workers experience a mental health problem at any one time.  As stress, anxiety and depression are thought to be responsible for almost half the working days lost in Britain, the relationship between mental health and the workplace is complex and now more important than ever.

Deliotte’s January 2020 Report on Mental Health and Employers tells us that the cost of poor mental health to UK employers is now up to something in the region of £45 billion. This is made up of absence costs of around £7 billion, presenteeism (where an employee comes to work and is not at their most productive) costs from £27 billion to £29 billion and turnover costs of approximately £9 billion. However, these headline figures are not the only costs to employers, there are also indirect costs in terms of the adverse impact on creativity and innovation and the effects on other employees. This makes for a powerful business case for investing in mental health wellbeing.

Changes in our working practices have provided their own challenges, where the increased use in technology often means that employees feel a need to be always available giving rise to a newer trend of ‘leaveism’, where employees feel they must continue working outside of their normal working hours.  In recent years, we have seen some positive changes in working practices around the issue of mental health particularly within larger employers which indicates a shift towards talking more openly about mental health and work and providing greater support to staff.  However, the subject remains difficult and the reality is that many employees still feel that they are unable to talk about their mental health, with only 49% of employees feeling able to speak to a manager about their mental health. 

As the way in which we work evolves, so do the expectations of how we support our employees. Creating an open and inclusive culture will go a long way towards helping to reduce the associated stigma still affecting mental health. Provision of training and advice to help reach out to all those who may need support and to reassure them that such issues will not have a detrimental effect on their career will also contribute. We must also be mindful of our future workforce and the fact that young employees are particularly at risk from mental health issues. 18-20 year olds are the most vulnerable group, with more than double the average number for other age groups saying they suffer from depression.

There is a lot of work to be done in this area, but steps to improve the management of mental health in the workplace, including the prevention and early identification of problems, should enable employers to save with a potential return of £5 for every £1 spent according to Deloitte’s aforementioned report. Interventions with highest returns are currently focussed on preventative large-scale initiatives, and on those which use technology or diagnostics to tailor support for those most in need.

There is much more that we can all do to support our staff.  There is scope for more investment around tackling stigma, increasing awareness of mental health issues, and providing adequate training for employees.  SMEs are a higher risk category where employees may benefit from a greater and more formalised support.  To help with this, the Trade Association Forum is delighted to work with Mind throughout 2020 and we will be publishing a series of articles in our newsletters to help you address this important issue, starting in our February issue by discussing what we mean by mental health and what this looks like for small workplaces.

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