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Time for employers to become mindful of mental health

Friday, 20 May 2011 Ksenia Zheltoukhova

Ksenia at The Work Foundation highlights the financial and human costs of ignoring mental health at work.

Sometimes there are days when time seems to drag forever. Just hitting ‘reply’ to any of those piling emails seems like too much effort. That’s what a typical work day feels like for at least one in every six employees.

A growing proportion of Britain’s workforce experience anxiety, depression and stress to the point that they are unable to work. Yet due to the long-standing stigma associated with mental health problems, office blues can seem like an embarrassing and insufficient reason to take a day off.

Few employers are aware that having staff coming to work when they’re ill may cost the workplace more than sending that same employee home. While mental health problems cost a business just over £1,000 per person per year, up to 60% of that accounts for compromised performance.

More costs associated with the increased risk of employees breaking down in tough times, when resilience is needed most. British businesses may be losing £2.4 billion a year in turnover costs due to mental health problems, according to the Centre for Mental Health

The good news is that proactive employers can take simple steps to increase engagement and job satisfaction in their workforce, while reducing the hidden costs of mental health problems. Sessions like our Emotional resilience in the workplace workshops show employers what they can do to boost the wellbeing of their staff.

Educate line managers to address the mental health needs of staff.

  • Managers are best placed to pick up on and act on mental health worries in their staff. However, most managers are not trained to bring up and talk through mental health issues. Empowering managers as well as employees to be open about any issues will make a noticeable change.

Build up employee resilience.

  • Good work in itself has been shown to improve health outcomes. While continuous stress undermines employees’ capacity to resist in the long-run, moderate levels of work pressure have been shown to prevent employee ‘rust out’.

Invest in simple interventions.

  • These tools can save on costs of poor health in the future. The European Network for Workplace Health Promotion estimates that for every 80p spent on health promotion and intervention programmes, £4 can be saved due to reduced absenteeism, temporary staff, presenteeism and improved motivation.

One thing employers can't afford to do is to ignore the negative impact of poor mental wellbeing on performance and productivity. Only 3% of businesses have a comprehensive occupational health service specialist; so many more employers could benefit from external experts on mental health, through organisations like The Work Foundation and Mind workplace.

If the only way to monitor wellbeing in your organisation is counting smiley faces in internal emails, this is a warning: employees will not become any happier in stressful workplaces. It is in your interest and in your power to make your staff more competitive and more resilient simply by focussing on what makes every their work day worthwhile.

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