Mental health problems cost employers in the UK £30 billion a year through lost production, recruitment and absence – so why aren’t we doing more about it?
The answer is straightforward. Despite the fact that it is very common – one in four of us will suffer mental health problems during our lives – we find it very difficult to talk about. It often seems too personal, too deep and too complex. You might feel very happy to tell a colleague about a physical injury you’ve sustained, but when it comes to your mental health, where do you start?
If you can’t talk about it, it may prove equally difficult to listen. Not listening could prove very costly – to the individual and to your business. The Centre for Mental Health charity estimate that employers should be able to cut the cost of mental health – in lost production and replacing staff – by about a third by improving their management of mental health at work
What is mental health?
Mental health is the mental and emotional state in which we feel able to cope with the normal stresses of everyday life.
If we are feeling good about ourselves we often work productively, interact well with colleagues and make a valuable contribution to our team or workplace.
Positive mental health is rarely an absolute state. One may feel in good mental health generally but also suffer stress or anxiety from time to time.
Mental ill-health can range from feeling ‘a bit down’ to common disorders such as anxiety and depression and, in limited cases, to severe mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Why is understanding and addressing mental health important?
A Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development study has highlighted the impact on business of poor mental health in employees. The study found that:
- 37% of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues
- 57% find it harder to juggle multiple tasks
- 80% find it difficult to concentrate
- 62% take longer to do tasks
- 50% are potentially less patient with customers/clients.
The study also found that, for the first time, stress is now the major cause of long-term absence in manual and non-manual workers.
What can a manager do to promote positive mental health at work?
A manager can:
- Spot the signs. This may initially mean taking a note of what you see as you walk around or in team meetings and then choosing the right moment to intervene
- Engage with the problem. There are some good practical steps you can take to help with coping strategies, and some legal requirements you need to bear in mind. For example, your duty to make reasonable workplace adjustments to the working environment in certain circumstances
- Keep a watching brief. This does not necessarily mean passively observing, although in some circumstances this may be the best option. Promote awareness of mental health issues and create a culture where employees feel they can talk to you about mental health issues. Keeping communication channels open is critical.
Is mental ill health a disability?
Some forms of mental ill health may be classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 if they have “a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”
The Act makes it unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled person less favourably for a reason relating to their disability, without a justifiable reason. Some forms of mental illness – such as dementia, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia – are classed as a disability and need to be covered in an employer’s equality policies.