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Right now, one in six of your colleagues will be experiencing depression, anxiety or problems relating to mental health.

Mental health can be a serious issue for businesses and our economy. All too often, employers first become aware that there’s a problem when an employee takes time off work. And by then it could be too late, as the absence may be impacting the business financially and putting pressure on the remaining employees.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the total cost to employers of mental ill health problems among staff is estimated at nearly £70 billion each year. That’s equivalent to £1,035 for every employee in the UK workforce (2014).

The OECD also reports that stress accounts for 40 per cent of all work related illnesses. But while many employers are now more aware of the impact of mental health problems on their workforce, 72 per cent of businesses still have no formal mental health policy in place (Work Place Savings & Benefits, 2015).

With two in five employers admitting they have seen a rise in mental health problems (CIPD, 2014), it’s really important that organisations create a culture to support their staff to be open and honest about their mental health.

Unfortunately, mental health has always been a taboo subject, seen as a stigma by those that suffer and a ‘sensitive issue’ for employers. Sufferers may be reluctant to admit that they have a problem, which may cause their symptoms to worsen and, unlike physical conditions, it can be difficult for an outside observer to recognise that there’s anything wrong.

Communication is vital. Staff need to know that their mental health is important and that being open about it will lead to support, not discrimination.

So what can you do to support your workforce and prevent mental health issues having a negative impact on the running of your business? Here are my five tips to help you get a grip on mental health in your workplace.

Promote a culture of awareness and acceptance

Breaking down the barrier of silence around mental health should be a priority. The most important thing employers can do is promote a culture where people can discuss problems openly, without the fear of being stigmatised, and seek help when they need it.

Equip managers to recognise the signs

Ensure your managers can spot the signs of common mental health conditions. Symptoms could include loss of appetite, fatigue and tearfulness.

Develop greater work / life balance initiatives

Reduce stress levels by encouraging regular breaks and eating lunch away from desks, while discouraging 24/7 work access.

Understand the extent of your mental health issues

If you have an Employee Assistance Programme provider, ask them for anonymised utilisation reports for your helpline and counselling services. You’ll also find clues in absence records, health insurance claims, Occupational Health and Group Income Protection referrals, as well as staff surveys.

Signpost staff to support services

Make sure employees know about your Employee Assistance Programme, if you have one. And ensure line managers mention it whenever they talk to those showing signs of stress or mental illness. Just 25 per cent of employees say their organisation encourages staff to talk openly about mental health issues. (Mind, 2013)

A preventative approach to employee mental health should be your aim. Ultimately, the more people talk about mental health, the easier it becomes to deal with – both for the employee and the employer.

Take a look at the infographic by Westfield Health below, which raises many of the issues around mental health and highlights some possible solutions.

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