In 2017, Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer (Chief Executive of Mind) were commissioned by the UK Government to independently review the role of employers in supporting individuals with mental health conditions in the workplace.
The resulting ‘Thriving to Work’ report set out core standards for employers mental health responsibilities. These standards provided a framework of actions designed to help employers improve the mental health in their organisations and support employees living with mental health conditions to thrive.
Why mental health is important
Work is often a big part of our identity. We spend a great deal of time in the workplace and it provides us with an income, a purpose and a sense of contributing to society. Unfortunately stress can be part of our working lives, as can juggling stresses from outside of work. Both can impact on mental health.
This can have a huge impact on business. Mental health issues cost UK employers between £33-42 billion a year in unproductive and absent staff. Whilst the negative impact of mental health issues are not entirely unavoidable, having an awareness of the importance of mental health can help workforces thrive.
An incredible one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problems at some point. Many issues can be short-term and successfully treated with medication, change of lifestyle, or therapy. But unfortunately, prolonged work-related stress can sometimes lead to bigger problems. It can also aggravate pre-existing conditions, and inflame or bring on symptoms.
Regardless of whether work is causing the health issue or aggravating it, as an employer you have a legal responsibility to help your employees. Work-related mental health issues must be taken seriously and levels of risk to staff must be assessed. If a risk is identified, steps must be taken to remove or reduce it, as far as reasonably practicable.
Given the known prevalence of mental health issues there is a very good chance that you have employee in your company who is dealing with mental health issues. From the point of recruitment, some people may have a pre-existing condition, or they may develop one caused by non work related factors. In all cases, and irrespective of causes, equality legislation makes it clear that employers have a responsibility to support employees with mental health conditions.
Promoting Mental Health and Wellbeing
By taking action on work-related stress, employers will meet parts of the core standards by:
- creating a mental health at work plan
- Promoting communications and open conversations, by raising awareness and reducing stigma
- Providing a mechanism for monitoring actions and outcomes
You can also consider taking the following steps for a healthy workforce:
By encouraging open discussions and a complete lack of stigma or shame around the subject, people are more likely to respond positively. Simply providing ways to help people identify signs and symptoms of mental health issues is a great starting point.
Even if an individual is aware that they are not coping well mentally they may not know how to deal with it. Be clear with employees about how you can support them and how they can access support outside of your organisation. Being clear that it is a legitimate illness will lead to it being acknowledged and treated as such.
Promote stress fee working environments
Workplaces are often stressful environments. Stress can sometimes be useful to drive people and projects forward. But over a sustained period this can be very damaging. Consciously trying to make workplaces less stressful will help improve employees mental health. Encourage a good work/life balance. Encourage people to take breaks and relax for short periods throughout the day. Promote fun and wellness in your workplace. It may seem against traditional ideas of ‘hard work’ but it will ultimately get the best from your workforce as a happy, healthy team will take less time off for ill health and will be more productive over all.
It is vital that businesses and organisations have an awareness of mental health and its impacts. Engage in Learning provides online training courses which will help you and your organisation understand and deliver appropriate support and guidance to your employees.
If you need mental health support there are a various organisations who provide confidential help:
Samaritans – Call 116 123
Mind – Call 0300 123 3393
Shout – Text 85258