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Mental health in the workplace: How can Employers spot the signs?

Kate Allen, Managing Director, Allen Associates

For the first time, people with mental health problems are taking time off work or quitting their jobs altogether at a higher rate than those leaving due to physical health problems.

This is according to a recent government review, Thriving at Work. It also found that around 300,000 UK workers with long-term health conditions are losing or leaving their jobs every year.

While positive strides have been made to raise greater awareness of mental health in the workplace, it appears to remain relatively under-appreciated. Indeed, despite the rate of sickness absence falling by almost 20% since 2009, the rate of absence due to mental health is climbing by at least 5% every year – showing no sign of slowing down.

This, of course, has a number of negative connotations for the business. On the one hand, there is the impact to the bottom line, with mental health estimated to cost Employers between £33 billion £42 billion a year, with the cost to the UK economy put at up to £99 billion a year. On the other hand, there is the longer-term impact on both the business and the people within it.

In 2016, a YouGov survey of more than 20,000 workers conducted by Business in the Community (BITC) found that just 78% of managers admitted to never having had any form of training in spotting and supporting employees with mental health symptoms. Perhaps more worrying was that 63% stated they “felt obliged to put the interests of their organisation above the wellbeing of team members.’

So what can Employers do?

The Finance sector has recently made significant strides in this area. Citi Bank, for instance, launched a free service called Babylon, which provides all its UK employees access to a GP around the clock. Standard Chartered now uses heart-rate monitors on hundreds of its managers and senior executives as part of its leadership development programme, whole Axa has started using wearable technology to measure employee stress.

Marks & Spencer for its part sends its leaders on a six-week challenge to learn more about “how to inspire mental wellbeing” among staff and train them on spotting the signs of mental health issues. This, in effect, creates teams of ‘health mentors’ – something that law firm Herbert Smith Freehills promotes extensively.

The company trains its managers to understand the causes of stress and its implications. In doing so, they influence some of their own behaviours that can be the cause of some of the stress felt by those in their teams – such as holding off from sending emails late at night.

Not all businesses have the capacity to create specific roles for tackling mental health within the workplace, nor the inclination to investing in smart technologies. However, according to Bupa, symptoms can be identified in other ways such as physical (constant headaches, fatigue), psychological (anxiety, sadness), behavioural (increased intake of alcohol, restlessness) and variation in attendances (lateness, long hours). There is also the taboo that still persists when it comes to mental health at work.

According to the Time to Change campaign, 7 out of 10 (67%) of employees say they would not admit to their Employer that they have a mental health problem because of how it may be perceived. So, Employers need to take a proactive approach to ‘normalising’ mental health and in doing so overcome the stigma that is attached with it.

As a business too, we are great believers in investing in the wellbeing and development of our people, which is why we have been accredited Investors in People Gold for the second time. Our people like yours, are the greatest asset that we have – without them there would be no business. If you’re thinking of ways to improve your workplace, we’d be more than happy to share our experiences with you. Please contact Kate Allen anytime. 

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