Mental Health in the Workplace
Mental health is something which is no longer a taboo subject with various charities and organisations now highlighting how prevalent mental health is working to bring it to the forefront allowing those suffering to seek the appropriate help without any stigma being attached. However, there is still a long way to go! It is now estimated that 1 in 4 people in the UK each year will experience some form of mental health condition at some point in their life.
November 2017 saw the Benenden report published which looked at attitudes towards mental health in the workplace and specifically whether employers just "tick the boxes" on the subject with regards to their employees. 1000 employees completed an in-depth survey on the subject with 10 of these then being interviewed one-to-one by telephone to gain more insight into what mental health conditions employees are being affected by and how their employers have responded to this. Participants were from across the UK and were a mix of men and women of all ages doing a wide range of jobs including healthcare and retail to prevent any biased results. Most of the participants (70%) had experienced some form of mental health, be it from stress, anxiety, panic attacks to post traumatic stress and 8 in 100 employees having a history of self-harm. However, only 43.8% of those questioned, said they knew of a colleague who had a mental health condition indicating that topic wasn't discussed in the workplace.
What are the causes of mental health in the workplace?
There are many different causes of mental health conditions, but today's busy hectic lifestyle can definitely contribute to feelings of stress and lower levels of wellbeing. With the advent of modern technology, we often feel a slave to our smart phones and iPads, always being on the go and being contactable day or night - be it by work or via social media. Gone are the days of jobs being 9am - 5pm with many opting to work from home fitting work around family life and working well into the night. Of those interviewed the top three causes of mental health issues in the workplace are: increased workload (38.2%); financial concerns and workplace bullying followed closely by work pressures and meeting deadlines. Over half of people said that their job had become more stressful in the past 5 years and 61.3% said that it was now more difficult to achieve a good work-life balance compared to 5 years ago.
What did the Benenden report show?
The report states that unfortunately, many UK businesses simply view mental health policies as a tick box exercise instead of providing actual support to staff with over half of the workforce saying there isn't a policy on mental health or being unaware if there is one. Surprisingly, only 23% of employees questioned said that their place of work regularly discusses mental health issues with less than 1 in 10 employees saying they would confide in their employer if they had a mental health problem. 14% of those questioned admitted to previously having suicidal thoughts. In addition to the report's own statistics, a 'Business in the Community Study' discovered out of 3000 participants questioned, 15% said they would face dismissal or disciplinary action if they discussed their own mental health illness with their employer.
Interestingly, older employees were less likely to disclose that they had suffered from a mental health related condition such as stress and anxiety compared to younger employees, which possibly indicates that the silence around mental health is being broken amongst the younger generations.
Those employees that did have mental health problems mainly sought help from their GP, family and friends or dealt with the issues alone, with less than 1 in 10 seeking support from their employer. When asked who they would confide in at work, 35.2% still insisted no one, while 34.1% would confide in their line manager, then a colleague, followed by HR.
When the employees were asked what they would do if a colleague was struggling with their mental health, 68.9% said they would offer support to them directly. According to the report, the main reasons for not discussing mental health issues with employers are embarrassment and worries about job security. It is the role of the employer to break this and encourage their staff to talk about mental health concerns creating a supportive environment, not one where people feel they will be judged.
The Health Alliance can support employers in this respect with its bespoke Occupational health service which provides tailored and confidential consultations for your employees suffering from mental health issues
Do employers operate a tick-box culture when it comes to mental health?
It is in the interests of businesses to maintain a supportive relationship with staff, promoting wellbeing. A happy healthy workforce = more productivity! However, in some companies, staff are unsure if their employers even have a policy on mental health and wellbeing with 22.1% saying that mental health is not a major concern to the company. 7.2% of employees said that there is a policy but it's not enforced. It appears that the larger the business, the more likely they are to have a policy.
The fact that there is a lack of clarity surrounding the subject, indicates strongly that many businesses are operating a tick-box culture having the policy in place but not actually giving their staff access to the support they need in times of difficulty. 45.6% of those interviewed said that they would seek alternative employment if adequate support was not offered.
Why should employers look after their staff's mental health?
Employers should acknowledge and provide support to their staff who are suffering from a mental health condition/issue, no matter how mild or severe it is. This benefits both parties - the employee will feel well supported and will get the help that is needed and the employer is more likely to retain a happy productive workforce rather than one which is plagued by stress and anxiety leading to depleted staffing levels due to sick leave (15.8 million working days were lost in 2016 due to mental health conditions - Office for National Statistics). Of those who took part in the survey and who had mental health issues, 43.5% took 10+ days off sick. Younger employees were more likely to take time off as are women compared to men. It also appeared that those working in a large business were more likely to be off sick for 10 or more days compared with those working for a small-medium sized business. The simple act of increasing wellbeing amongst staff (via support programmes and different types of therapy) goes a long way and can be invaluable to employers' business!! With 7 in 10 employees having suffered from a condition relating to mental health, it's a great time for employers to strike up awareness and support on the topic increasing wellbeing.
What can employers do to help with mental health in the workplace?
From those that participated in the survey, 51.8% said they would just like the offer of help and support from their employer, followed by simply listening, offering time off and reviewing their workload.
Companies can offer an Employee Assistance Programme which generally provides a 24/7 healthcare line providing advice. This enables the employee to speak to someone completely impartial and independent to the workplace in confidence meaning they don't have to tell their employer if they don't want to. 69.1% of those interviewed said they would use such a service if available.
Many employees (83.2%) feel that it would be beneficial for companies to provide training to line manages on mental health awareness seeing this is the person they are most likely to confide in at work.
For businesses, it can be a daunting prospect of where to start on offering support for mental health, so consider the following :
" Create a culture of openness
" Create a mental health policy
" Provide training
" Prioritise work-life balance
" Offer professional help
The Health Alliance can support you with a bespoke package looking at the well being of your workforce.
" Adapt as necessary
" Allow time off
" Be flexible
" Provide extra support
" Offer professional help
" Phased return
" Develop an action plan
" Offer professional help
" Continually prioritise mental health
At The Health Alliance our team can offer individual support to your employees so that your business can be as productive as possible.
Please comment below with your thoughts on the report, we'd love to hear your feedback.
All facts and figures taken from the Benenden Mental Health in the Workplace Report, November 2017