Mental illness in the workplace - what's your strategy?

Mental illness is becoming an increasingly salient issue in workplaces across the UK, according to a new survey.

By Karen Credie, KMCHR.

The results of a nationwide questionnaire by AXA PPP found that mental illness is now the biggest threat to the UK’s workforce, with 51 per cent of senior executives stating they believe mental health to represent the biggest challenge to employee health over the next five years.

As employees continue to lead ever more stressful lives both at and outside of work, mental health issues are becoming more and more prevalent. In fact, work-related mental ill health costs the UK economy up to £26 billion every year through lost working days, staff turnover and lower productivity and one in six workers experiences depression, anxiety or unmanageable stress.

Despite these statistics, mental health remains somewhat of a taboo, with few SME employers having a strategy in place to deal with employee mental health issues.

So what can you do to ensure your workplace is conducive to positive employee mental health?

Recognise any issues

The first step to tackling mental health in the workplace is to recognise where there is room for improvement. Whilst you may think your company is a shining example of places to work, your employees may not feel the same. One way to identify issues is to conduct a survey for staff to complete anonymously, with questions specifically pertaining to stress, workload, support and wellbeing. You should also take a close look at your staff turnover figures. If these are particularly high, stress or poor work relations could be a leading cause.

Promote wellbeing

Once any issues have been identified, it’s time to act on them. There are many strategies you might look to employ to improve the wellbeing of your staff and these will depend upon what the particular issues are. Generally, you should ensure that workloads match employees’ abilities and experience and that deadlines for the completion of work are reasonable. Allowing employees the freedom to express any concerns regarding their position and workload and plans for employee training and development are also important for staff morale. A clear and supportive reporting structure can also assist employee wellbeing. Managers/team leaders should be given clear guidelines around mental health issues, particularly the signs to look out for and how to support staff in a positive and non-discriminatory way.

Lead by example

The culture of an organisation comes from the top so if the business leaders work excessive hours, rarely engage socially with other staff and have a generally stressed and overworked demeanour, it is likely that this ethos will infiltrate your workforce. Whilst it is not wrong to expect your staff to work hard, there is a balance and as the above statistics indicate, overworked staff will cost you more in the long run. It is important for employers to consider the wellbeing of their workforce as a whole and introduce health and wellbeing strategies that tackle any specific health needs. For further advice on how to actively manage mental health in your workplace, please get in touch.