equality through diversity inclusion leadership

Raising mental health awareness

Take a look around your workplace. How does everyone seem today? The chances are your colleagues appear settled and focused – and most of them are. But with 1 person in 4 experiencing some form of mental health issue in any given year, it’s an inescapable truth that some are also struggling. This is where mental health awareness and workplace wellbeing come into play.

According to this 2016 report by Great Place to Work, the average UK organisation has wellbeing scores of 53%, compared to 84% at best-in-class organisations with more positive, supportive and inclusive cultures. And the UK Government’s Thriving at Work report (commissioned by PM Theresa May) in October 2017 highlighted how the number of people who are forced to stop work as a result of mental health problems was 50% higher than for those with physical health conditions.

Mental illness is the largest single source of burden of disease in the UK. The total cost of mental ill health in England for 2009/10 was £105 billion. Mental health issues are responsible for 91 million working days lost in the UK.

We offer two training courses to support mental health and wellbeing in your workplace: our one-day Workplace Wellbeing course for managers, and our two-day Mental Health First Aid training programme. 

Get in touch to find out more.

Why is mental health awareness at work so important?

According to the mental health charity Mind, at any one time, at least one in six workers are experiencing common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. Poor mental health is costing UK employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year. If you are a private sector employer, the cost to you is an average of more than £1,100 per employee each year.

Good mental health enables us to thrive. As individuals we understand this and now business leaders, too, are increasingly acknowledging the importance of wellbeing in the workplace.

Research studies provide strong evidence that companies with high levels of mental health are more successful. Addressing wellbeing at work increases productivity by up to 12%. And, as reported in the government’s Stevenson-Farmer Review of Mental Health and Employers in 2017, businesses that invest in mental health interventions report an average £4.20 return for each pound spent.

Mental health awareness for managers – 5 signs to watch out for

91 million working days a year are lost to mental health issues – that’s an estimated cost of £35 billion to UK employers – but 67% of workers report feeling too scared or embarrassed to admit taking time out for mental health reasons.

If you’re a manager at work, here are some common signs that can surface in colleagues who are struggling with their mental health:

  • They may be making more mistakes than normal, or having trouble with decision-making and concentration.
  • They may become more irritable and sensitive to criticism.
  • They may become increasingly absent or alternatively start working excessively, staying late and bypassing lunch-breaks.
  • They may exhibit physical symptoms, such being constantly tired or suffering from a cold that won’t go away.
  • They may take less care with their appearance, or show signs of drinking alcohol to help them switch off in the evenings.

What is workplace wellbeing?

Mental health is something we all possess. When it is good, we have a sense of purpose and direction and feel that we can cope with whatever life (and work) throws at us. But just as our physical health fluctuates, so too our mental health goes through ups and downs. An inclusive workplace is one where people feel able to bring their whole selves to work, and mental health has a critical part to play.

We all have tough times when we feel low, stressed or frightened. Usually, those feelings pass, but sometimes they develop into anxiety or depression. And some people have more complex, long-term mental health conditions, such as an eating disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. All of these can affect our ability to engage and perform at work at a consistently high level.

Diagnosis is not always a predictor of an individual’s experience, either, so as managers and colleagues it is important never to jump to conclusions. For example, some schizophrenics lead fully-functioning lives, while others living with anxiety are severely impacted by their condition.

Workplace wellbeing, then, refers to the business goal of being watchful of, and then improving on, the collective mental health of your workplace, so that everyone feels supported and included, particularly in the more difficult times.

Raising mental health awareness at work – the business benefits

Internationally, the impact of mental health awareness-raising initiatives in the workplace is already proving overwhelmingly positive. A 2017 Deloitte study evidenced approaches across Germany, Canada, Australia, France, Belgium and Sweden which are empowering employers to implement interventions.

“As always, prevention is better than cure,” says Ruth Cooper-Dickson. “We know that the average seven-day absence from work costs £8,000 and that 300,000 people leave their jobs every year due to serious mental health problems. Alongside the human toll is a cost to employers – the recruitment of a new team member costs an average £30,000 – so it is not so much whether your business can afford a mental health strategy, but more that it cannot afford not to have one.”

The World Health Organisation predicts that depression will be the world’s most common illness by 2030, and a greater burden than illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The rewards for taking action on mental health awareness now speak for themselves: happier, healthier workforces make for stronger, more successful businesses.


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