More people are taking more time off from work because of mental health problems but, on a positive note, the issues are becoming less taboo for both employees and employers.

According to a survey conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and the UK’s largest insurer, Aviva, almost 30% of businesses have seen an increase in the number of staff being absent for mental health reasons.

The survey, of over 1000 business leaders from every region and nation of the UK, suggests that, as a result, firms are more aware than ever of mental health concerns in the office.

However, this still does not apply to all, as BCC Director General Adam Marshall has made clear.

He said: “While legions of firms are now more aware of mental health concerns and acting accordingly, far too many businesses are still turning a blind eye to this issue, which saps productivity, morale and individual wellbeing.”

Employers who have recognised the problem are typically reviewing individual workloads (36%) and flexible working options (35%), organising counselling for staff (20%) and providing training for managers to better support staff (18%).

It is clear that more could be done as nearly half (49%) of those surveyed said that they did not access occupational health support for their staff from external bodies, and 10% were not aware of any available support.

Tackling mental health concerns in business need not break the bank, Mr Marshall argued, pointing out the advantages of taking action at a time when firms are facing severe challenges finding and retaining the skilled staff they need.

“Our message today is that it is no longer acceptable for firms to ignore mental health in the workplace, and all companies need to step up their game,” he concluded.

Comment from Health Assured CEO David Price

While it is a good sign that more employers are getting on board with addressing mental health in the workplace, they should also think about any additional steps that can be taken.

Flexible working options and counselling are useful ways to help individuals suffering from mental illness. However, it is also a good idea to evaluate if any existing workplace practices are making the condition worse. For example, employers need to be careful of asking too much of employees outside of working hours — if at all.

Employees who find they cannot “switch” off may be the ones who are more exposed to poor mental health. Employers should therefore be prepared to implement changes that will improve the working conditions of their employees if need be.

Last reviewed 23 August 2018