Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental health in the workplace is a topic we are beginning to hear more about.  Does this mean that mental health problems are increasing in the workplace?  Research suggests not.  Research carried out by the mental health charity MIND show that the overall number of people with mental health problems has not changed significantly in recent years.  Its studies also show that one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year.

Mental health is the way we think, feel and are able to deal with our daily lives.  Our mental health doesn’t always stay the same and anyone can develop mental ill health at any point.

As an employer, developing a culture that supports mental health in the workplace has a number of benefits.  It actively shows employees that their employer is supportive.  It can help with attraction and retention of employees.  It can also contribute to reducing absenteeism and help with morale.  People report a fear of discrimination or harassment by disclosing such information to employers and employers must actively seek to remove this stigma.

The HSE found that 15.4 million working days were lost in 2017/18 due to work related stress, depression or anxiety.  This is 57.3% of the total work days lost to ill health.  Clearly this is not a great situation for employees or employers.

What can employers do about this?  Keys elements for employers are to be aware, approachable and supportive.

Signs that may be seen within the workplace that could indicate a mental health issue include irritability, lateness, performance issues and changes in usual behaviours.

Identifying early warning signs and acting on them can be key in establishing a positive way forward.  Questions as simple as “how are you?, how are things at the moment?” can open up a communication channel for employees who may be struggling.  Getting to know your staff can be invaluable when dealing with mental health issues.  As a manager or colleague you may notice small signs that someone may be struggling.  A consistent means of communicating such as one to ones at regular intervals will help to spot and draw out any issues that individuals may have.  Issues may not always be work related but you may able to offer a solution in work that helps them for example a temporary change in hours or work pattern.

More employers are demonstrating their commitment to workplace wellbeing by offering Employee Assistance Programs which give access to counselling, advice and support on a confidential basis.  Many organisations are building working relationships with Occupational Health Practices in order to gain timely help and guidance with both the mental and physical health of employees. 

Findings from a workplace mental health and wellbeing survey carried out by the Mental Health Foundation revealed that 86% of respondents believe their job and being at work are important to protecting and maintaining their mental health.  In addition to this recent studies have found that addressing wellbeing at work increases productivity by as much as 12%.  These figures alone indicate that organisations should be looking at mental health in the workplace and by doing so are likely to see positive effects both for individuals and the organisation as a whole.