Mental health at work
The combination increasingly regular media coverage about mental health along with more and more people speaking about their own struggles with mental health has meant that awareness of MH issues is much better than it has ever been. However, this is generally in the context of society as a whole and doesn’t bring to the light the sheer extent of mental health at work.
Why is mental health at work important?
The workplace is often a boiling pot and a trigger point for many people to the various challenges it brings such as high workload, short time scales, conflicting personalities and the high stakes environment experienced in many offices around the world.
Stress has become the number one cause of long term sickness within the UK, mental health conditions – including stress, anxiety, depression – is estimated to cost employers in the UK more than £32 Billion per year.
Also, as many people spend over 2000 hours per year at work it has become a focal point for mental illness, if people are required to spend such large amounts of their time at work then action needs to be taken to encourage mental wellbeing and resilience and to support those who are struggling.
With common mental health problems on the rise employers need to act. Businesses of all sizes have a responsibility to play their part.
Mental health at work must be a priority
According to HSE (Health and safety Executive) guidelines every workplace must consider mental health first aid in line with traditional first aid. It is estimated that large organisations spend around 11% of their annual operating budget on employee wellbeing, conversely SME’s (Small to medium enterprises) invest as little as 0.5% of their budget.
The British Safety Council reports that mental health issues have a greater impact on SME’s compared to larger organisations. This is due to their smaller size, fewer resource and less resilience to staff absenteeism. Simply put, SME’s can not afford to have employees not working at their full capacity.
Awareness & Action
Simple steps can make a lot of difference.
Increase mental health awareness – Invest in basic training for not just managers but all employees so people are trained to spot the signs of mental health, particularly stress and burnout. Peers are more likely to be the first to spot signs such as poor productivity, low engagement and changes in behaviour and mood.
Train mental health first aiders – Having key staff such as managers, HR and employees with strong soft skills trained to identify signs & symptoms, approach the person concerned, provide immediate support and signpost to wider services can literally save lives. It also shows your staff that you genuinely care about their mental wellbeing as much as physical wellbeing.
Encourage a good workplace culture – Employees spend a lot of time in work, why not make it a nice place to be? Make small changes to improve the working environment, culture, and attitudes can have a big impact on employee wellbeing and increase presenteeism.
Make tough conversations easier to have
People management skills have a huge impact on mental wellbeing. Mental health awareness has come a long way in recent years but so much stigma still exists around mental health that employees often feel ashamed or embarrassed to ask for support.
Often a manager’s response to an employee experiencing mental health issues will be to send them home. However, this may not always be the most helpful solution. Giving the employee the option to sit down and talk openly and confidentially in a comfortable environment can go a long way to improving their state.
Invest in your staff
A safe workplace is not only about physical safety but also psychological safety. That means creating a culture of trust, openness, support and putting systems and procedures in place to support those who need it. It only takes a small investment and change in mindset to create a huge shift in staff wellbeing, reduce sick days and turnover and create a happier and more productive workplace.
In fact, according to economic models in 2016, in a company of 500 employees where two thirds are offered and accept the treatment, an investment of £20,676 will result in a net profit of approximately £83,278 over a two year period (Source).
When considering the cost of putting these systems in place it’s worth asking yourself “How much could it cost if we didn’t do this?”. When we consider the cost to the company of a executive taking long term sick due to stress or depression or in a worst case scenario, an employee taking their own life and the impact this would have on their peers’ wellbeing and workplace productivity.