The issue of mental health in our workplaces is still somewhat of a taboo subject. Yet with government estimates that every year one in six British workers are affected by conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress, this can have a significant impact on the overall well-being of your workforce. Millions of working days and billions of pounds are lost by British businesses every year through mental health issues. Last year there were 40,000 cases of self-reported stress, depression or anxiety caused or made worse by work in the East of England alone.
The responsibility of employers to support the health and well-being of their staff is covered by a whole raft of legislation including the Health & Safety Act at Work Act (1974), the Human Rights Act (1998), Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations (1999) and the Equality Act (2010),). But employers should see it not just at a corporate responsibility: promoting the mental health of employees leads to a healthy, happier and more productive workplace.
Workplace stress can hit anyone at any level of the business and is not confined to particular sectors, jobs or industries, although the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) identifies that stress is more prevalent in public service industries, such as education, health and social care with the key triggers cited as workload pressures, including tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support. Research by mental health charity “Mind” into workplace stress found that:
- More than one in five agreed that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them;
- 14 per cent agreed that they had resigned and 42 per cent had considered resigning when asked how workplace stress had affected them;
- 30 per cent of staff disagreed with the statement ‘I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed’; and
- 56 per cent of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff well-being but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance.
Workplace stress is only one aspect of mental health illness that may affect employees and itself can be a trigger for more serious illness, but it is one that is likely to be most prevalent in the everyday workplace.
Despite research and the legal requirements placed on employers, it is still widely agreed that employee well-being needs to be better understood and better managed across the board.
Whilst employees have a duty of care to themselves to look after their own mental well-being, the stigma attached to mental health issues often means that they try to hide their feelings or fail to admit that they are suffering. Employers must play a key role in identifying symptoms and triggers and work towards alleviating pressures and supporting individuals at risk. It is important to monitor factors that might suggest there are problems with stress-related illness such has high rates of absenteeism, staff turnover, poor performance and even conflict between staff.
We mostly associate health & safety at work with accidents such as trips and slips and falling off ladders, but your Health & Safety policies also need to address the issue of stress, including, if appropriate, a stress management strategy. For best practice, you should consider undertaking a stress-related risk assessment if you expect your business to undergo some significant organisational change.
Promoting Mental Well-Being
As part of the management of mental well-being, employers should promote and encourage a culture which allows employees to feel comfortable about raising their concerns in confidence and educates the workforce as a whole as to the implications their behaviour may have on placing additional pressure on affected staff members: bullying, harassment or discrimination will not be tolerated.
Any steps you can take to help balance the demands placed on employees, such as flexible working, reduced hours or a change of duties, will help create a more positive working environment. Recognising issues early and providing appropriate support and information can help develop a culture where sickness absences, accidents and grievances are reduced and productivity, employee satisfaction and morale are greatly increased.