Why mental health in the workplace can no longer be ignored

12 December 2016

Employees’ mental health problems can be costly – for both them and the business.

Mental health is climbing the corporate agenda. More companies are looking to sweep away the stigmas and create an open and supportive workplace for employees.

This change in attitude isn’t surprising. Mental health issues cost the UK around £70bn every year, according to research by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Of this, the cost to employers is around £26bn in lost working days, staff turnover and lower productivity, equating to £1,035 per employee.

Mental health problems are a common issue. One in four of us will have a mental health problem each year, according to figures from charity Mind. And at any one time, around one in six of the adult population will be experiencing a significant mental health problem.

Protecting employees’ mental health

Employers do have a legal responsibility to address mental health. The Health and Safety at Work Act requires them to protect employees’ health, including their mental health. 

Failure to do so can be costly, says Adrian Humphreys, Head of Group Risk and Healthcare at JLT Employee Benefits. 

“An employer that puts an employee under undue stress risks being taken to court. As well as the potential for a six-figure settlement, they could suffer significant reputational damage.” 

Under the Equality Act 2010, a mental health condition is considered a disability if it has a long-term effect on normal day-to-day activity. So an employer could face a disability discrimination claim if it fails to accommodate an employee with a mental health condition.

Proactively addressing issues

With taboos still attached to mental health, many employers don’t know where to start when it comes to addressing the issue. 

As a first step, Humphreys recommends running a benchmarking exercise, such as the HSE’s Management Standards for work-related stress. 

“As well as helping you identify where you need to make improvements, this will show you how you compare to other organisations,” Humphreys says.

Running a benchmarking exercise also provides a standard against which to measure the success of any intervention you introduce.

These could include:

  • Health risk assessments
  • Employee assistance programmes (EAP)
  • Mindfulness sessions
  • Mental health awareness days

Regardless of what is introduced, line manager training is a key element. 

“Line managers are in the best position to spot the early warning signs of a mental health problem among employees but many won’t feel able to do anything,” says Tristram Hawthorn, Principal at JLT Employee Benefits.

As well as helping to reassure the employee, managers can signpost them to support tools such as the EAP, or discuss changes in their role, such as time off, shorter working days, or switching to a role that doesn’t involve customer interaction.

Company-wide support 

Even the most comprehensive package of benefits can fail if the workplace culture isn’t right. 

“An employer needs to create an environment where it’s ok to raise your hand and say you have a problem,” says Beth Robotham, Head of Business Development at Bupa UK. 

“This requires board-level sponsorship, but can also be very powerful if an organisation has people at every level talking openly about their mental health issues.”

As an example, Robotham points to the Barclays ‘This is Me’ campaign, which was run on its intranet and then shared externally. 

The campaign featured members of staff talking about their mental health conditions, interests and life-roles, to highlight that their mental health condition was just one facet of them as a person.

This type of project needs to be long term, stresses Robotham. “You can’t expect change overnight. You need to keep assessing the culture, making changes where necessary and highlighting the services and support you provide. 

“But, when you do achieve this supportive culture, you’re likely to see improvements in employee performance too.”

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For further information please contact Adrian Humphreys, Head of Group Risk and Healthcare, JLT Employee Benefits on +44 (0)1344 381 618 or email adrian_humphreys@jltgroup.com