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Supporting workplaces to be mentally healthy

Sunday, 27 August 2017 Emma Mamo

Today a review - led by Dennis Stevenson and our Chief Executive Paul Farmer - revealed that 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems lose their job every year. It also sets out six core standards that all employers should be meeting to create more mentally healthy workplaces, and examples of good practice from forward-thinking employers.

Over the last few years, we’ve started to see employers waking up to the issues around workplace wellbeing. We know that staff are at their most productive when they feel valued at work - when we feel supported in the workplace, we’re more likely to be committed to our organisation’s goals and vision

We’ve seen real progress around this, but there were still 15.8 million sick days as a result of mental health in 2016. Perhaps more worryingly, 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year. It’s clear that we still have a problem. The new Thriving at Work review, launched today, highlights the huge cost of this to employers. Poor mental health costs the UK economy up to £99bn every year, with up to £42bn as a direct cost to employers. We know that there’s a huge human cost related to mental health, but these figures show the business case for addressing mental health in the workplace, with proactive employers also reaping the rewards of a more motivated, healthy workforce.

Here at Mind, we’ve been working with employers to improve workplace mental health since 2010, and in 2016 we launched our very first Workplace Wellbeing Index. The Index is a benchmark of best policy and practice around mental health. It celebrates the good work employers are doing to promote and support positive mental health, and provides key recommendations on the specific areas where there is room to improve. Participating organisations undertake staff and employer surveys to help us assess where the gaps lie between the organisation’s approach to workplace wellbeing and staff perceptions.

"Almost four in five employees said that problems at work were a contributing factor to their poor mental health."

30 organisations took part in our first Index, with 15,000 of their employees completing our staff survey. These employers are all part of our movement for change and have made a great commitment to improving mental health the workplace. Today we've launched the report from that first year, and the findings show that how we’re supported at work has a huge impact on our mental health. It also shows that more needs to be done by employers to help staff feel comfortable talking about their mental health.

One in ten employees rated their current mental health as poor or very poor. Quite staggeringly, almost four in five said that problems at work were a contributing factor to that poor mental health, and 40 per cent said they had taken time off as a result.

We’ve seen a real change in public attitudes around mental health in recent years. Since the Time to Change campaign started in 2007, an estimated 4.1million people have improved attitudes around mental health, with more and more people speaking out. Yet despite this shift, only two in five (41 per cent) felt their organisation encourages openness about mental health, while less than half felt their employer supported their mental health.

Just one in four employees said they would be likely to talk to their manager if they were experiencing a mental health problem. These figures are worryingly low, but we’re committed to helping employers support the mental health of their staff. Line managers are in a great position to encourage openness and play a crucial role in making sure employees feel confident to talk about poor mental health and provide support.

The recommendations set out in the Thriving at Work review are a positive step, building on the positive work that lots of employers are doing. The review’s recommendations provide employers with the building blocks to create their own mentally healthy workplaces, and start to create the cultural shift that we need. With more employers realising the importance of workplace mental health, we need to start embedding best practice into organisations of all shapes and sizes, and we’ll continue to use our experience to help employers achieve this.

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