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Poor mental health in the workplace – what are the costs?

In 2017, the Thriving at Work report was published following an independent review of how employers can better support the mental health of all people currently in employment. The report acknowledged that within the UK, we are facing unprecedented rates of poor mental health at work, which has both significant human and economic costs for society.

First and foremost, the human costs of poor mental health are profound. Anxiety, low mood and depression, poor sleep, low self-esteem and confidence are life altering experiences and can lead people to withdraw from activities and to engage in coping strategies that can create even more problems (e.g. alcohol and other substance misuse, spending etc.). Poor mental health can put incredible pressure on relationships and families, and therefore the impact is far greater than on the individual alone. And the ultimate cost can be the loss of life through suicide, which is higher than the national average within certain industries.

Within the workplace, mental health can impact in many ways, including:

  • High sickness rates. Absence due to mental health has risen by around 5% since 2009, despite overall rates of absence reducing in the same time period
  • Poor productivity as a result of presenteeism. This is defined as coming to work even when you are unwell, resulting in loss of productivity and potentially making the mental health condition worse. This appears to be increasing year on year
  • Limited progression of staff. Employees perceive that disclosing a mental health difficulty would prevent promotion and progression. This is likely to lead to a loss of skills and diversity amongst organisations.
  • Increased pressure on the wider workforce. If people aren’t given the support and adjustments that they need to stay in work, they may take time off or feel forced to leave. This creates a greater pressure on others who may have an increased workload as a result.
  • High staff turnover. If someone feels that they are not supported enough to be able to remain in work, the time and cost to recruit and train new staff can be significant for organisations.

All of which can lead to significant loss of productivity and economic costs.

It is estimated that 300,000 people with a long term mental health difficulty lose their jobs each year, which is considerably higher than those who have a physical health condition and captures the ongoing discrepancy that continues to exist between our understanding of, and attitudes towards, mental health. However, with reports such as Thriving at Work highlighting the huge challenges this poses within society, there is a real drive to close this gap. In the same way that physical health and safety is mandatory in every workplace, mental health is likely to become the same.

So how can organisations do this? Thrive at Work suggests that every workplace should have what they call “mental health core standards”, a framework for a set of actions they can take to ensure mental health is clearly considered and addressed. These core standards are as follows:

  • To produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
  • To develop mental health awareness among employees
  • To encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
  • To provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development
  • To promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors
  • To routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing

The report also outlines a series of more ambitious ‘enhanced’ standards for employers to lead the way in putting mental health at the forefront of their agenda including:

  1. Increasing transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting
  2. Demonstrating accountability
  3. Improving the disclosure process
  4. Ensuring provision of tailored in-house mental health support and signposting to clinical help

This can feel like a daunting task for many organisations, who may know that mental health is a key need within their workforce, but feel overwhelmed as to where to start with getting the right support. This is why having someone offer a bespoke service to your business needs is important. At Talking Heads, we believe that any approach to mental health should be meaningful and integrated throughout all levels of the system. From training and consultation to leaders and managers as well as direct therapeutic support for staff, we know that real change happens when everyone is equipped with the evidence based awareness of mental health and the language and confidence with which to explore it.

Please contact us for further information and to discuss what we could offer you and your business.