Mental health in the workplace – is there more we can be doing?

Mental Health in the Workplace

Over half our lives are spent at work and much has improved in recent years to give us a better work/life balance. Technology has also moved on, offering us the opportunity to work whenever and wherever we like.

But this isn’t all good news. Where once there was a clear definition between when you should and shouldn’t be expected to respond to emails or phone calls, now it seems there are no rules, or at least no consistency. Policies regarding working overtime or flexibly vary massively depending on the organisation or industry and increasingly employees are left unsure of what is expected of them, leading to anxiety and stress.

In November 2018, for the first time, work-related stress, anxiety or depression accounted for over half of all working days lost due to ill health in Great Britain according to figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). In total, 15.4 million working days were lost in 2017/18 as a result of these conditions, up from 12.5 million the previous year. This equates to 57.3% of the 26.8 million work days lost to ill health. Mental health charity Mind also found that 48% of UK employees have experienced mental health problems in their current job but only half of them feel comfortable enough to disclose this to their employers.

Suicide is also a significant social issue which I believe employers need to be more mindful of, as many suicide factors actually relate to the world of work, such as unemployment, recession, debt and loneliness. Last year there were approximately 4,661 registered deaths by suicide in the UK – an average of 13 suicides per day – with men making up three-quarters of those who take their own life. It remains the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the country.

What can we do about it?
There are many factors that influence the mental health of employees and everyone reacts differently to stress depending on their own mindset or life experiences, so it is hard to come up with a ‘one size fits all’ cure. If in doubt about how to respond to a situation, consider referring the individual to a third-party medical advisor or occupational health service for expert support.

Having said that, there are preventative measures employers can put in place to encourage communication. Here are my Top 10 Tips:

  1. Having clear policies in place around things like bullying and harassment can make for a more comfortable workplace environment where everyone knows what is expected of them.
  2. Employing a buddy system can really help so employees always have someone to talk to without having to ‘take it to HR’ and ‘make it official’.
  3. Consider introducing mental health first aiders who are trained to provide direct assistance to someone suffering from a mental health condition.
  4. Having flexible working systems in place can also give people the freedom to address any out of work responsibilities, attend appointments or even just escape the office by working from home for a day or two, even if this is just on a temporary basis or as part of a phased return to work.
  5. Provide training so staff members know how to deal with stress, depression or someone who may be suicidal effectively. Be aware of how discrimination legislation can apply to mental health conditions, as getting it wrong can result in costly court proceedings.
  6. As part of your employee benefits packages, include health and wellbeing initiatives such as counselling, yoga or mindfulness sessions for managers and employees.
  7. Look out for common signs of poor mental health. Is the employee demonstrating unusual behaviour such as unexplained absences; poor performance, time-keeping or decision-making; a lack of energy; or uncommunicative or distressed behaviour? The individual may not even be aware they could be suffering with a mental health condition.
  8. If someone is experiencing mental health issues, look at practical ways to help them by making changes to their workloads or working hours or environment.
  9. Take advantage of the Mental Health at Work website that was launched in 2018 and is designed to improve mental wellbeing in the workplace. It offers a number of free resources like training, toolkits and case studies.
  10. Highlight the importance of work/life balance. Encourage staff to finish work on time, take breaks and use all their holiday entitlement.

Thankfully, in recent years there has been a growing recognition that the mental wellbeing of employees does have a direct impact on a company’s bottom line. If an employee is healthy, professionally fulfilled and experiencing a good work/life balance, they are more productive and more likely to become an ambassador of your company and brand, which is especially important if they have a client-facing role.

If you would like to look at ways you can better support your team with their mental health, call 07540 543655 or email