How can UK employers offer employees better support with mental health issues?

mental health workplace

To support World Mental Health Day, employers are being urged to tackle the growing issue of mental health in the workplace and better support good employee mental wellbeing.

A study published by the Mental Health Foundation this year found that most Britons have experienced a mental health problem, such as a panic attack or depression.

Consequently, the need to do more to manage employee mental health has risen up the corporate agenda because the clear links to performance, productivity and absenteeism rates are being recognised more widely.

According to the Institute of Directors 127m hours of work were lost in 2015 due to mental health-related absence – the equivalent of around 75,000 individuals losing the entire year. The number of days taken off work with mental health problems has increased 25 per cent year-on-year, and stress, depression and anxiety together rank as the largest reason for absence in the workplace.

In February, Punter Southall Health & Protection published its second annual wellbeing research report which found that mental health is growing in importance for UK companies.

Nearly half of companies have a clearly-defined wellbeing strategy in place, compared to less than a third in 2016 and the majority of these strategies now include mental health, with 15 per cent of employers planning to add mental health initiatives to their strategy this year.

More than half of employers said that mental health support is one of the most effective wellbeing initiatives for their business, together with employee assistance programmes and on-site medical support.

We’re seeing many companies putting in place strategies to proactively tackle workplace mental health issues. But more could be done.

While Employee Assistance Programmes provide excellent counselling and support services they are often under used – why is this the case?  Could employers do more to promote the services – ensure employees know what support exists, that they understand the phone number is easily accessible and can access the service confidentially?”

Too often employees are reticent to discuss mental health issues with their line managers and this needs to change. Open and transparent communication about mental health issues is needed from business leaders and line managers to lose the stigma. Companies also need clear strategies that support good mental wellbeing and ensure they are embraced throughout the business.

Here are my top 10 tips for employers:

Review your company wellbeing policies and procedures – do they support mental health?

Consider other factors that support good mental health such as ensuring there are good flexible working policies.

Introduce options for shorter working hours on occasion such as ‘summer Fridays’ where employees can leave at midday once a month.

Do your employees eat at their desks or are they encouraged to take a full lunch break? What does this say about your workplace culture and does it need to change?

Review your absence management data – are there patterns that suggest mental health issues exist?

Review how often your EAP systems are used. Are employees fully aware of the services that exist?

Ensure line managers are trained and can offer support for staff. This will enable them to identify when someone is struggling and provide the right support.

Encourage employees to exercise by introducing initiatives such as fitness challenges as there is a strong link between physical health and good mental wellbeing.

Consider introducing workshops that focus on specific mental health issues such as stress management, sleep management or mindfulness.

Get talking – promote and discuss mental health at work – World Mental Health Day is a wonderful way to promote your mental health support services.

John Dean, Managing Director, Punter Southall Health & Protection