Wellbeing has consistently been shown to influence the efficiency of a workforce. The profile of mental health has risen dramatically over the past two years, but more needs to be done. Dave Howell reports.

According to the last report from 2017 into mental health in the workplace conducted by Business in the Community, more than half (60%) of employees have experienced mental health issues in their workplaces.

Indeed, a third have been diagnosed with mental health problems such as depression. Moreover, the survey also highlighted that 91% of managers agreed their actions influenced the mental health of their staff.

The Business in the Community report is clear that managers need to do more, as it concluded: “Greater numbers of managers recognise that employee mental health and wellbeing forms part of their responsibilities (84% compared to 76% in 2016). However, many line managers lack training and support in mental health. The lack of training has implications; people are still more likely to turn to people they trust outside work when it comes to their mental health.”

For managers tasked with creating a positive and productive working space for their employees, mental health is a critical factor. There is a clear practical advantage to working environments that support good mental health.

According to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2016, work-related stress accounted for 45% of working days lost due to ill health. Research from Mind indicated that more than half of those surveyed (56%) said they found work very or fairly stressful, more so than debt or financial problems (38%), health (29%) or relationships (20%).

And in its report into mental health at work, Deloitte states: “while improving support for employees with a pre-existing condition or those suffering a period of mental ill health is crucial, recognising that we all have varying states of mental wellbeing at all times is equally important”.

Campaigns such as World Mental Health Day have highlighted the issues across the working environment that impact wellbeing. And the public conversation about mental health in general has filtered back to the workplace.

Metrics

However, a lack of measurable evidence regarding the commercial impact of poor mental health in the workplace has prevented many businesses implementing wellness programmes, due to a fear of lack of return on investment. This could change as technologies continue to develop.

And there seems to be an appetite for this. Research from the fourth annual AXA Health Tech & You State of the Nation online survey conducted by YouGov, concluded that 51% of the British workforce would be prepared to wear a device that detects the early signs of mental health symptoms if their company supplied it free of charge.

Suzanne Scott, HR Director at AXA PPP healthcare said: “In my experience line managers want to support people in their teams who experience mental health issues. Technology opens up a new way to help both the employee and the manager broach the subject and having the relevant data is always a helpful way into a conversation. At AXA PPP we are looking at ways we can introduce technology to help us take the next step forward in supporting our people's wellness.”

Working environments

Defining and then implementing a mental health awareness plan is still not generally evident across the business community. Many employees continue to suffer in silence, as they believe bringing their mental state to the attention of managers could damage their careers.

In addition, much of the action that is taken with mental health issues is reactive, as businesses have no formal policy in place to support staff who need help. This again could be a reaction to the lack of measurement of wellbeing that is possible today. Change is happening, amply demonstrated by EDF Energy. They audited their workforce and discovered they were losing around £1.4 million a year in productivity due to mental ill health. Developing their Employee Support Programme has improved overall productivity by more than £200,000 a year.

Last year also saw the first mental health awareness week from EMCOR. In association with Mind, the three-year initiative is designed to raise awareness of mental health issues across the facilities management sector.

Chris Kehoe, Group Executive Director, EMCOR UK said: “EMCOR UK is delighted to have the opportunity to work with Mind and help raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing within its workplaces. Our collaboration with Mind is part of a wider Wellbeing Programme we have developed to deliver a programme of information and activities designed to help advance good mental health practices.”

Managers can take action now to improve the mental health support on offer. As Deloitte conclude, even the smallest step is positive action: “Having successfully argued the case for change and improved investment, it is important to find the right initiatives to fill the organisational gaps and achieve the required outcomes. While some organisations may struggle to define what best practice looks like, taking even small, timely and measurable actions is likely to have a positive impact.”

Breaking the culture of silence

Opening the debate about mental health at work is happening. Businesses are moving forward with limited resources to tackle what they can see is an issue that has a practical impact on their organisations.

Leadership is key here says Angela Love, Director at workplace relocation and design specialists, Active: “In order to implement a shift in how mental health is tackled in the workplace, organisations must lead from the top and take action at a senior level in order to remove the stigma surrounding mental health at work. By doing so, organisations can create an open and embracing culture. Employees need to feel that they can talk openly about their own mental health and that their organisation will respond positively.”

As an invisible illness, mental health can go undetected until the suffer falls into crisis. There should of course be processes in place to manage these incidents, but clearly if they can be prevented from occurring this is a much more profitable environment to create. As Dr Vanessa Champion, Director, Argenta Wellness says: “Just being able to knock on your line-manager’s door and know you'll be listened to, is not rocket science, nor does it cost the earth, but if the manager is big enough to listen and help find a solution then happiness will cascade through their team resulting in staff-retention and productivity.”

Ultimately, managers will be able to develop their own specific mental health policies based on collected data. The mental health policy that this information informs will become the basis of not only debate about mental health at work, but also deliver the foundation onto which a more open discussion can take place, with real-world changes to office culture to support better mental wellbeing.

Your checklist

Health Assured

If you need help on mental health and wellbeing issues, Health Assured offers the most comprehensive employee assistance programme (EAP) available today. Health Assured high quality counselling and specialist work–life support is delivered through an in-house team of 60 BACP accredited counsellors, supported by a network over more than 1650 active counsellors across the UK, with access to a further 4500 BACP counsellors. Their specialist service supports 9 million people throughout the UK, handling over 300,000 calls a year.

See www.healthassured.org.

Last reviewed 16 May 2018