Employers must support staff with mental health issues

Mental health issues cost the UK about £70 billion each year, according to a report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in February.

Its Mental health and work: UK report made a series of recommendations, including that employers should get much more involved in supporting employees with mental health issues.

Dame Carol Black, expert adviser on health and work at the Department for Health, said: “Of all the messages that I take from that piece of work is that we have got to be better at early intervention.

“We must also be proactive and have workplaces where there is good work, where managers are well trained, where people have a sense of autonomy and feel good about going to work.”

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Stephen Bevan, director of the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness at The Work Foundation, which hosted the launch of the report, said many large employers are doing excellent work around mental health in the workplace, but too few employers are doing it well.

Leading employers

Black said organisations such as BT, EDF Energy and GlaxoSmithKline are good examples of employers that demonstrate a return on investment for their focus on employee wellbeing and resilience.

Professional services firm EY is also leading by example. It has launched a new wellbeing programme, called Health EY, which focuses on mental health in the workplace.

The programme was launched to coincide with Time to Talk Day on 6 February, the official annual day for Time to Change, a government-run initiative led by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, designed to remove the stigma around mental illness.

More than 625 organisations have joined the initiative since 2011. Emma Mamo, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, said: “Time to Change is doing great things to make people feel more comfortable to talk openly about their experiences.

EY’s new programme includes the introduction of mental health first-aiders and a mental health buddy scheme to provide an informal support network for any employee affected by a mental health condition.

The programme also includes monthly health education campaigns and clinical care pathways for mental health conditions. Steve Wilkinson, managing partner for client service at EY and a partner sponsor of Health EY, said the new programme supplements the organisation’s existing employee networks, providing a way to get staff talking about a vital issue.

Government support for employers

In January, the government published a report, Closing the gap: priorities for essential change in mental health, which outlined 25 areas for health and care services to take action to tackle mental health conditions.

It will provide support for employers to promote workplace wellbeing, to increase productivity and prevent the build-up of stress at work.

The government will identify best practice for employers, ranging from reducing stigma to the provision of effective workplace support.

It will also provide employers and line managers with information to help them better understand the signs of stress and mental health conditions, and encourage them to talk about these issues with staff.

Mind’s Mamo added: “We’ve been running a campaign for the past couple of years called Taking Care of Business, which makes the case to employers that investing in the mental health of their staff should be an absolute priority.

“It’s not just about minimising the costs, it’s about if you invest in your staff, you’ll get higher levels of employee engagement. We welcome anything the government does to reinforce these messages to employers.”

Louise Aston, Workwell director at Business in the Community, said: “Stress is on the increase, people are working longer and harder, employers are doing more with less and, certainly among organisations I am talking to, the issue of stress is high on the agenda.

“Mental health is the last workplace taboo. A lot of celebrities, sports people and even MPs have spoken about mental health, but that hasn’t really happened with business leaders. I suspect we’re on the tipping point in terms of tackling this culture of silence.”

Moves to tackle mental health issues

  • The OECD’s report, Mental health and work: UK, recommended that employers get much more involved in supporting employees with mental health issues.
  • Time to Talk Day, on 6 February, was the official annual day of Time to Change, a government-run initiative designed to eliminate the stigma around mental illness.
  • The government published a report, Closing the gap: priorities for essential change in mental health, which outlined 25 areas for health and care services to take action to help tackle mental health conditions.