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Mental Health in the Workplace: Are you taking relevant action?

It’s one of the biggest taboos of the workplace, but approximately 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year and often, it’s related to their work. In fact, studies show that work is now the most stressful factor in people’s lives and employers must take action to help tackle the issue if they want to make sure their employees are happy and productive.

As many as 300,000 employees with a mental health problem will leave their job every year. For employers, this means missing out on talented individuals who have already proved themselves worthy of the job. The cost of this, along with sickness absence, staff turnover and presenteeism (when employees attend work despite being sick, instead of calling in sick) is valued at £42 billion a year for UK employers. Mental health is the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK. Further, a PWC survey revealed that more than a third of the UK workforce is experiencing anxiety, depression or stress, and the number of days lost due to mental health issues has shot up in recent years. Consequently, businesses need to start thinking about mental health now more than ever.

So what happens when employers decide to address mental health and make a change? Well, for starters it’s now widely recognised that employers who support their staff with mental health issues benefit from retaining skills through a reduction in staff turnover; decrease the likelihood of grievances and discrimination claims; and cut sickness absence. It’s clear that staff who feel positive about their mental health are much more productive. Therefore, if we want to boost the productivity of our staff, we need to truly want to understand what it is that’s affecting them. A study by Mind found that 60% of employees would feel more motivated if their employer showed support for their wellbeing. Employers should therefore endeavour to create a culture that focuses on employee wellbeing as this should result in increased productivity, morale and loyalty, which is likely to ultimately boost a business’s output. It’s also important to be aware that a mental health issue affecting an employee’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks can in certain circumstances be considered a disability as defined in the Equality Act 2010. In such cases employers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments to help combat the disadvantages faced by the disabled employee and have a legal duty not to discriminate. Just another reason for employers to jump on board and start taking mental health seriously.

So what can employers do to address mental ill health of employees?

One of the biggest barriers facing businesses is the way that we view mental health. Employees are nervous to discuss mental health at work in case they lose their job or are judged as a result. Some may also feel that their condition will be dismissed on the basis that “everyone gets stressed”, which despite being true, fails to differentiate between “normal” stress and more damaging stress which can lead to more serious and longer lasting conditions. The figure is so high that as many as 85% of workers believe there is a stigma attached to mental health issues in the workplace. A modern manager is therefore encouraged to be approachable and vigilant of any changes in behaviour or unexplained absences which could be a sign of an employee suffering from mental ill health. Rather than creating a culture of fear and pressure, which is only likely to increase mental ill health of employees, managers should be encouraged to nurture an open and understanding working environment, to help prevent stress, depression and anxiety. Managers should also re-evaluate sickness absence policies to ensure that they are being understood and implemented correctly. Further, an organisation’s stance on mental health in a workplace plan will help demonstrate its commitment to supporting employees during difficult times. A plan like this can be designed to increase awareness of mental health within the business, encourage open conversations and promote effective people management.

Another option for employers is to promote initiatives such as healthy lifestyles and mindfulness techniques, each of which are popular ways of addressing and preventing mental ill health at work. Employers should also be conscious that worries, including money and work pressures, can have an effect on someone’s ability to do their job. Doing things like providing external financial advice to help manage day-to-day living costs and encouraging an end to unhealthy habits such as working late nights and weekends, and eating poorly, can all help. At MBM Commercial LLP, Craig Ali (from Total Health) conducted a workshop on wellbeing in the workplace, and introduced us to some useful mindfulness techniques. We found the workshop informative and insightful, and we would recommend it to other employers who want to encourage health and wellbeing at work. If you would like to contact Craig you can email him at craig@totalhealth.uk.com.

One other option is to have a qualified mental health first aider who can effectively prevent issues such as absences or presenteeism before they arise by guiding employees towards the right support. Mental health first aiders are trained in how to recognise common mental health symptoms including anxiety or depression, through to more urgent situations like psychosis (when somebody is no longer in touch with reality) or suicidal thoughts. Employees need to be encouraged to talk about their mental health in the same way they do their physical health. Workplaces with mental health first aiders help to develop a culture of openness and empathy ultimately resulting in stronger employee retention, loyalty and drive. Alternatively, there are not-for-profit organisations who can provide free staff training on mental health, and can provide advice on how to implement reasonable adjustments for employees who are affected by mental health conditions.  For instance, the charity IntoWork supports employers to build positive working environments for people who have specific mental health conditions.  If you would like to get in contact please follow this link: https://www.intowork.org.uk/

If you need advice or support in relation to employees with disabilities, making reasonable adjustments for staff or employment law and HR advice in general, please contact Katie or Hannah in our Holistic HR team at Katie.Pearson@mbmcommercial.co.uk or Hannah.Roche@mbmcommercial.co.uk.

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