The cost to employers of poor mental health was £56 billion in 2020-21. Yes, it was the year when the pandemic took its toll on everyone’s mental health in the workplace. But even in 2019, before we’d heard of the dreaded virus, the cost to employers was £45 billion.
Businesses need to understand the importance of mental health in the workplace for a myriad of reasons – not only is it simply the right thing to do, but it also leads to more productive and engaged employees. The bottom line is that supporting mental health in the workplace is crucial. Here, we look at the importance of mental health at work, focusing on the benefits of change.
Why is mental health in the workplace important?
Whether you need to make a business case for mental health in the workplace or simply want to understand more, the primary arguments for supporting mental health in the workplace, beyond the bottom line, are:
1. It’s simply the right thing to do
Ethically – and to a degree, legally with the Health & Safety at Work Act – employers have a duty of care to their employees. In a climate where your reputation as an employer is a notable factor in your success and growth, it’s important to take corporate responsibility for your employees seriously.
Workplace hazards aren’t just the cables running across the floor or the poorly configured desk. A predominant workplace hazard that is easily overlooked is stress, which can arise for various reasons. These include working hours, working outside of capacity, working outside of competence or bullying.
2. Legally, it matters
If nothing else will convince an employer of the benefits of good mental health in the workplace, there are compelling legal reasons why mental health is important at work. Not only does the Health and Safety at Work Act place a duty of care on employers, the Equality Act also determines that employers must not discriminate against someone considered to have a disability.
Under the 2010 Equality Act, a “mental health condition is considered a disability if it has a long-term effect on your normal day-to-day activity.” Here, ‘long’ is considered to be a year or more. This means that mental health difficulties such as ongoing depression, OCD and personality disorders can all be considered disabilities.
If nothing else, the legal case is compelling and you want to always remain on the right side of the law.
3. Businesses that support mental health are more productive
There is good evidence from multiple sources which shows that organisations who support employee wellbeing outperform those who don’t. The individual employee who is supported with their mental health at work, and can take advantage of employer driven initiatives from counselling to lunchtime yoga, is engaged and productive.
One of the biggest benefits of good mental health in the workplace is that employees perform better. These workplaces are characterised by improved morale, innovation, productivity and profitability.
4. Mental health support at work leads to greater engagement
Engaged employees are loyal employees. They stick around and are committed. In a tight labour market where employers are finding it increasingly difficult to find the talent they need due to candidate and skills shortages, it’s vital that organisations retain the valuable talent they have.
It makes good business sense to reduce employee turnover and supporting mental health is a core way to do this. Indeed, of the 28% of employees that either left their jobs in 2021, or are planning to leave in 2022, a staggering 61% have cited poor mental health as the reason. That’s an eye-watering statistic and a compelling argument for the benefits of mental health awareness in the workplace.
Supporting mental health at work involves ensuring employees feel heard, respected and valued. It also builds resilience so that employees can stay and give their best.
5. Sickness absence can be reduced
Data reveals that 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions. It’s no surprise given that 1 in 6.8 people experience mental health problems in the workplace. And that’s before factoring in that due to stigma, that ‘back pain’ or other condition on a sickness note may in fact be mental health related. Employees don’t always feel they can disclose such matters.
So, it’s not just about productivity when your employees are at work, it’s about reducing the amount of time off they need as a result of their mental health. This reduces the amount of logistical problems for finding cover and also decreases the workload of other employees.
6. Diverse workforces are the most successful
More and more evidence is emerging to show that diverse and inclusive workforces are the most productive, most profitable and most successful. Recruiting and retaining a talented and diverse workforce means understanding and managing the mental health difficulties that different sectors of the workforce may face.
For example, supporting a new mother in her return to work following maternity leave, with initiatives such as dedicated maternity returner coaching, helps ensure that women stay in your workforce and that you retain their skills.
7. Difficult to quantify but important factors
Many of the above benefits or good mental health in the workplace are tangible and can even be measured, at least on a wider population level. However, there are many compelling reasons for the importance of mental health in the workplace which aren’t so quantifiable. This doesn’t mean they aren’t important.
These factors include things such as reduced capacity, poor communication, difficulty with team cohesion, negativity and poor decision making. When employees aren’t at their optimal best, there are a complex range of difficulties which arise.
Benefits of mental health training in the workplace
Improving the mental health of your workforce doesn’t happen without strategic input. The impact of mental health in the workplace can be reduced with the right planning and approach.
Mental health awareness and training can ensure that organisations have the right policies and knowledge in place. It ensures that management practices and communications support mental wellbeing. In short, training and awareness helps businesses to actually achieve the benefits of a mentally healthy workforce.
Mental health training can take many forms, from a workshop on effective management of eating disorders or one on combatting loneliness in the workplace, geared at managers, through to coaching sessions, such as for working parents.
When mental health in the workplace is supported, everyone benefits.