When we sign up for a job we check the salary but don’t fully realise the added stressors to our lives from working. Sure, we all have to work to live and live to work because money pays the bills, but that can be mentally draining in itself (without the whole package of dealing with colleagues and office politics, deadlines, being overworked, being on a low wage or not wanting to take annual leave or sick days due to mental health).
Reporting mental health issues in the workplace is much lower than for other ill health conditions due to reasons of stigma, lack of knowledge and training on how to support friends and colleagues in the workplace. Yet, workplace mental health and wellbeing is a significant issue which employers have a moral as well as economic reason to address.
As much as having a job can give some independence financially and personally, work can be used in a self-destructive way because it pays the bills right, so it’s all good? Not. In a recent survey carried out by MIND, more than one in five UK workers called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them.
Mental health and wellbeing describes our mental state – how we are feeling and how well we can cope with day-to-day life. As most people work day-to-day, promoting mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is important for employees, their employers, society and the economy. It’s no wonder that poor mental health impacts individuals’ overall health, their ability to work productively (if at all), their relationships with others, and societal costs related to unemployment, poor workplace productivity and health and social care.
Working conditions and environment can have a huge impact on mental health and, equally, someone’s mental health can have a significant impact to perform well in their job.
Here’s some statistics to make you think:
- Women in full-time employment are nearly twice as likelyto have a common mental health problem as full-time employed men (8% vs 10.9%). (McManus et al, 2016)
- Evidence suggests that 7% of all sickness absence daysin the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions. (ONS, 2014)
- 8 million– is the number of work hours that are lost each year because of mental health issues including stress, depression, anxiety as well as more serious conditions such as manic depression/bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. This makes up 11.5% of the total number of sick days for 2016 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
- Promoting wellbeing at work through personalised information and advice, a risk-assessment questionnaire, seminars, workshops and web-based materials will cost approximately £80 per employee per year. For a company with 500 employees, where all employees undergo the intervention, it is estimated that an initial investment of £40,000 will result in a net return of £347,722 in savings, mainly due to reduced presenteeism (lost productivity that occurs due to an employee working while ill) and absenteeism (missing work due to ill health). (Knapp, McDaid & Parsonage, 2011)
- 5% –The economic burden of poor mental health upon the UK’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Increasing awareness of mental health across the business community could therefore play a key role in addressing Britain’s ‘productivity puzzle’.
Employers have a key role to play in supporting employees’ mental health and wellbeing. Public awareness of the importance of good workplace mental health and wellbeing is growing, as is the moral, societal and business reasons for improving it.
From the above statistics there’s no doubt that better mental health support in the workplace can save business up to billions of money. Yet, despite this, many employers experience numerous challenges in improving their performance in supporting employee mental health and wellbeing. These include a failure to see employee mental health as a priority against other operational demands; a reactive approach to implementing mental wellbeing policies rather than concentrating on prevention; a lack of understanding around how the company currently performs in this space; a poor evidence base to measure the return on investment of any programmes; and a lack of best practice examples to promote improvements. Workplace stigma and perceptions around mental health underlie and increase many of these challenges.
Organisations need to re-address their policies by having a plan in place, increasing awareness among employees, stipulating line management responsibilities and routinely monitoring staff’s mental health and wellbeing.
What are your experiences of workplace mental health? We would love to hear about them.