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Breaking Down the Barriers - Mental Health in the Workplace

After multiple lockdowns and enforced social isolation, more and more people are aware of the profound impacts mental health issues have on individuals, both personally and in the workplace.

As the return to work unfolds, it’s important to make time to talk about mental health with workers. For a long-term approach both physical health and mental health should form equal parts of employee well-being.

The culture of silence

There is a breadth of evidence which suggests that the barriers stopping people from talking about mental health have adverse effects on employers.

21% of employees admitted to MIND that poor mental health, caused by workplace stress, meant that they had called in sick to avoid the return to work. Shockingly, 42% of employees considered resigning due to mental health issues and 30% of employees found themselves unable to discuss mental health problems with their line manager.

In times of stress, people did not feel their line manager would be able to help them. This is a two-pronged problem, as 56% of employers don't feel they have the right training or guidance to effectively improve staff wellbeing and help employees tackle mental health problems.

Impact on the workforce

Impacts are felt at the level of the workforce, and mental health issues are incredibly costly to the macroeconomy. The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health has put the total cost of poor mental health to the economy at around £26 billion per year.

On a micro-scale, this is around £1,034 for every employee. In total, around 70 million lost working days a year are caused by mental health issues.

There is also a problem around mental health issues in high-risk industries. In fields such as energy extraction or construction, physical safety is often prioritised over mental health.

Poor mental health, coupled with the inability to find time to talk about mental with line management, means that there is a £2.4 billion annual cost to employers in replacing staff who are forced to leave due to their long-term mental health problems.

Employee morale and productivity

Where the impact of mental illness is often most acute is in terms of productivity. The Sainsbury Centre points to evidence from Australia that presenteeism, employees coming to work but performing at a subpar level, is the largest impact of mental health issues in the workplace.

This poses a significant challenge for line management: The Sainsbury Centre estimates the cost of presenteeism to be £605 for every employee in the workforce.

Low productivity stemming from mental illness has also led to a situation where, according to Forbes, 61% of US employees are 'burned out on the job'.

This contributes to a situation in which, according to HR Cloud, mental illness means that only 36% of employees are engaged in the workplace.

This is a bleak picture for line management, it suggests long-term productivity is being hampered by mental health issues. There is a body of evidence that suggests that engagement with line management, doing something as simple as finding time to talk about mental illness, can have positive impacts on productivity.

How can you make a difference?

The problems around mental health issues are profound. In the long-term, line-management need to ensure that physical health and mental health are considered equally important components of well-being.

Actions managers can take largely focus on creating time to talk and the space in which people can share their experiences of mental health issues. This could be by:

  • creating a culture of openness

  • having dedicated well-being ambassadors

  • encouraging people to take time off for holidays

  • making sure employees have regular one-to-ones with their managers, to talk about any problems they're having

What difference does Mental Health training make?

Training is vitally important; managers need to feel confident that they have the skills and knowledge to support their employees. This also includes training about how physical health conditions interact with and contribute to mental health issues.

Supportive Solutions approach

Alastair Robertson, Supportive Solutions' founder, had been working for the Scottish Prison Service when he realised the lack of support available to Prison Officers when dealing with traumatic events such as suicides and then went on to set up Supportive Solutions.

Supportive Solutions is highly experienced in supporting the well-being of employees, we have been delivering both Mental Health and Wellbeing and Psychological First Aid Courses since 2016 to organisations across the UK.

Mental health first aiders are more commonplace in the workplace, but psychological first aid (PFA) is less so. PFA supports people to manage post-incident stress, which can often interfere with their ability to cope with daily life.

Our trainers are experienced facilitators and problem solvers within their individual fields of study. Many of our trainers have been commissioners of training and understand training needs from both a purchaser and provider perspective. They are skilled at applying relevant context to training, ensuring that your employees can apply their new knowledge and understanding in the workplace.

Contact us to find out how we can help you.


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