Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace Today

At the beginning of 2017, the Prime Minister announced there was to be an independent review into how employers can better support all individuals currently in employment, including those with mental ill health or poor well-being, to remain in and thrive through work.    “Many employers are already creating healthy, inclusive workplaces, but more needs to be done so that employers provide the support needed for employees with mental health conditions.”  Said Prime Minister Theresa May.

mental health

According to the Mental Health Foundation, the social challenge of our time is to reverse the growing level of mental ill health. Updated figures from the Centre for Mental Health indicate that this cost employers almost £35 billion last year (2017). The largest part of this cost (£21.2 billion) occurred through “presenteeism”- staff coming to work while unwell, with below par performance and productivity.  Sickness absence accounted for £10.6 billion and replacing staff who leave their jobs because of their mental ill health is estimated to have cost £3.1 billion.

The review, “Thriving at Work”, was published in October 2017 and established that the UK is facing a far greater mental health challenge at work than was originally thought. Poor mental health is now one of the biggest issues in the workplace today, causing over 70 million working days to be lost each year (Mental Health Foundation). Simply put, employers lose billions of pounds a year because employees are less productive, less effective, or off sick.

There is a compelling argument for employers to invest in early interventions involving both reactive and proactive elements. The World Health Organisation predicts that depression will be the world’s most common illness by 2030 and suggests the global burden of the condition will be greater than for illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. To tackle this and avoid the detrimental impact poor mental health has on both employees and businesses, employers must take action to prevent mental health issues occurring, as well as providing support when they do. The reward for getting this right is a happier, healthier workforce, and a more successful, high-performing business.

Whilst companies are increasingly coming to understand the importance of good mental health, many companies are simply not confident in handling the issues around poor mental health. Managers lack the confidence in handling and communicating issues such as increased staff turnover, sickness absence due to depression, burnout and exhaustion, decreased motivation and lost productivity within the workplace.

It is vital, however, that we find the knowledge, the tools and importantly, the confidence to understand mental health in and out of work. Good mental health is vital to business performance, because when staff feel happy and well cared for, they are more engaged, more motivated and more loyal.

Companies can encourage good mental health by putting strategies in place. An effective mental health strategy considers prevention, intervention and protection. Line managers will need ongoing training and support to help handle mental health issues but they are not required to become experts in mental health. If they can be empowered to spot signs when something is wrong and to address issues before they become severe, they can support staff and direct employees towards the right support and resources.

So training is imperative.  At the Garnett Foundation we work with clients to tailor programmes involving live theatre to specifically explore how best to tackle mental health issues within their organisations.  We challenge perceptions, explore how to recognise how mental health can present itself at work and build your managers’ confidence to address mental health appropriately and constructively.

Ensuring the health of employees makes sense on every level, and mental health will become an increasing challenge if it is not managed sensitively, proportionately and appropriately.

Liz Manning

The Garnett Foundation  2018