With mental health issues costing businesses an estimated £35bn each year, Nick Martindale looks at the need for a culture of understanding
- There are growing signs that employers are better understanding the scale of the mental health challenge they face
- While just 16% of UK employers currently have a defined mental health strategy, some 37% plan to implement one in the next 12 months
- Line manager support and the right mix of benefits is vital
For many years, employers have placed an emphasis on the importance of ensuring employees are physically healthy, driven largely by a need to reduce staff absence and increase productivity. But mental health has, until relatively recently, often been the poor relation.
The issue, though, has a huge impact on employees, and the businesses for which they work. According to Mind's 2017/18 Workplace Wellbeing Index, 66% of employees have experienced a mental health problem and 48% have done so in their current role. A 2018 study by the Health and Safety Executive suggests 15.4 million working days are lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety each year; an increase from 12.5 million working days the previous year. The Centre for Mental Health estimates the issue costs employers an estimated £35bn a year, equating to almost £1,300 for every employee.
There are signs that organisations are now starting to understand the scale of the problem; according to Punter Southall's Employee Wellbeing Research 2018 study, in partnership with the Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA), although just 16% of UK employers currently have a defined mental health strategy, 37% plan to introduce one in the next 12 months, and a further 26% intend to do so by 2020.
There are a number of ways in which employers can actively improve the mental health of their employees, and help those who do suffer from stress, depression or anxiety, but the fundamental requirement is to change the company culture so it is acceptable for people to talk about the topic. Getting buy-in from senior management is vital, says City Mental Health Alliance chief executive Poppy Jaman.
"Business leaders set the tone for how an organisation approaches mental health and wellbeing, so it's important that leaders have an understanding of it, and are skilled in talking about it," she says. "Sharing stories about mental health experiences - good and bad - can also create a culture of openness, thereby encouraging people in need to seek help without worrying about how it may affect their career progression."
In 2018, Bupa became the first company in the UK to provide mental health first aid training to its entire executive team, while at Deloitte over 500 partners and directors became mental health first aiders, she adds.
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