The Shaw Mind Workplace
The Shaw Mind Foundation strives to break down the barriers surrounding talking about mental illnesses – and this includes in the workplace. There is no place for getting embarrassed about mental health issues in the workplace and we are here to guide you and your business on how you can tackle the stigma plus ways in which you can help employees and their mental health.
A survey of employees, conducted in 2014 found that 31% of employees said that they would not feel able to talk to their manager if diagnosed with a mental health problem. 33% said that if they told their boss that they were stressed at work, they felt that their ability to do the job would be questioned.
Free PDF guides
We have produced a range of free PDF guides on mental health in the workplace.
How does mental illness affect a business and why should a business care?
The modern day workplace does not end when a person leaves the office and many people are often always in touch with work colleagues discussing projects. With such a big role to play in people’s everyday lives we argue that responsible businesses should care about the health of their employees, especially their mental health.
Being subjected to longer work hours can increase stress, anxiety and depression which all have negative impacts on an employee’s ability to perform. Therefore, providing ways to improve mental health will not only positively impact the employee but will also greatly help the employer.
Of course, people who have mental illnesses can be a tremendous asset to any business, as our mental health advocate partner, Colin Minto explains…
“I want businesses to realise mental health doesn’t need to affect productivity and performance – on the contrary, if you support people, it could actually increase them. Difference is good and different ways of thinking are good. People who are different come up with different, sometimes better, solutions, and form better teams. It would be great if, rather than assessing people against skill and experience sets alone, we could look at them as individuals. What makes you different? What a great question to ask and explore in detail in a recruitment process”.
Colin Minto himself has OCD and has harnessed this to be an extremely successful businessman. He is founding partner of Mental Health in Business and Big Idea Talent. He spent six years as group head of resourcing strategy and HR systems at G4S, the world’s second largest private employer.
Colin also launched ‘Mental Difference at Work’, an anonymous Q&A support community which will change the way millions communicate about mental difference in the workplace.
The financial cost of mental health to businesses
It is unsurprising to hear that mental illness affects people’s productivity at work. After all, mental illnesses can greatly impede people’s everyday lives and their ability to function; both at home and in the workplace. However, many businesses underestimate how much of a financial impact that mental health problems have on them.
Whilst we do hope that businesses would like to improve the mental wellbeing of their employees for reasons that are not solely financial, we are aware that this will be a big driving force behind many business decisions. We want businesses to become more mental health friendly environments.
There are two paths in which mental illness can create costs for businesses; directly and indirectly.
More on indirect costs and their impacts on work output
Employee absence is one form of indirect cost; associated with this are the costs of recruitment and termination. These are related as people may go on extended leave and then may decide they are unable to return to work. This means a company has to involve costs in closing this employee’s contract and has to incur further costs with recruiting and training a suitable replacement.
What are the costs?
Absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover figures combine to create a great strain on businesses on a global level and is likely to be affecting a great deal of the world’s economies.
USA – Estimates for the total cost of mental health and substance abuse to businesses annually being between $80 billion to $100 billion.4
UK – UK businesses with mental health problems are costing employers £26 billion a year3 which is a catastrophically large figure that equates to approximately £1,000 per employee in the UK work force. The UK economy as a whole is thought to be being negatively affected by mental health problems in the work place by approximately £70 billion annually.1
What about positive reports?
According to Mental Health Foundation, Oxford Economics and Unum, who between them produced a report in 2016 highlighting that;
- UK workers with mental health problems contributed £226 billion to UK GDP last year!
It goes on to state that;
- This is nine times more than the cost of mental health problems to economic output – an estimated £25 billion in foregone gross value added that the UK economy missed out on because people with mental health problems could not join the labour force, were less productive at work, took sick days or required informal carers to leave employment for them.
Lost work days
Breaking these figures down in relation to lost work days does not paint a better picture, with some estimates suggesting that;
Unfortunately, evidence is showing that this problem is continuing to worsen with the number of sick days rising to 11.8 million in 2010 and then to 15.2 million days in 2013 which is an alarming rate of growth highlighting the problems employees are facing in the modern working environment. 1
But the numbers are probably much higher…
These statistics and figures may be alarming but unfortunately the truth of the matter is that these figures are likely to be underreported as many people with mental health problems do try to conceal these issues from their employers and fellow colleagues due to the continuing stigma surrounding mental health.
Although these figures are alarming there is a lot you, as an employer, can do to improve mental health in your business and to reduce the cost it has on you.
The financial cost of mental health is probably an area that many businesses will like to focus on, but there are other impacts on a business caused by mental illness which do not have such an immediate effect on a business’s finances. These impacts may affect the businesses profits in the longer term and are often avoidable or treatable if acknowledged and dealt with. This is the bottom line as to why a business should care about mental health, negative impacts are perpetuated when we fail to acknowledge a problem.
Image is everything
An image of a business can take a drastic hit if many employees are having to take time off due to mental illness, especially if this is caused by work. If people are reporting that they are unhappy or unwell due to their workplace, then this is likely to become well known with many people choosing to avoid a brand or supplier due to the way they perceive staff are treated.
Conversely, if a brand is recognised as being an active player in a push for positive mental well-being and mental health treatment then they are likely to see an increase in their brand’s image and brand loyalty.
Whilst we would hope that the health of an employee would come before brand image it is a factor that we cannot ignore and one that could greatly benefit from the implementation of mental health friendly practices.
Client and colleague relationships are a great reason to care about mental health and a place where mental illness can have a great impact. It has been found that mental illness can cause an increase in colleague conflict. This will then cause strains within a business that will no doubt impact efficiency.
Teams that are often conflicting will not work well together which in turn will lead to longer completion times on group projects. This will also likely lead to more complaints being submitted to HR departments which then cause an increase in costs due to the resources being used and again a delay in projects being completed.
These conflict problems are also likely to extend to the business’s client base.
Being less patient with a client can cause an employee to become short tempered and may leave a client feeling underappreciated or insulted. They will then hold this against the company, not the individual, impacting both the company’s reputation and their potential for sales.
So there are a number of reasons to take mental illness in the workplace seriously, and this page is by no means exhaustive.
We do encourage all businesses to consider these costs and the financial costs of ignoring mental illness in the workplace.
We also hope, after reviewing these costs, you decide to implement some changes to improve mental health in your business, and we discuss some options for this below.
What can a business do to improve mental health and well-being of staff?
Whilst making improvements and changes may be time consuming and costly, studies show that businesses which make improvements to improve mental well-being can save up to 30% of their current outputs relating to these problems 6
Testing employees for mental health problems
Screening procedures are a formal way to test for mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and stress. These procedures involve a screening questionnaire and potential follow up appointments for treatment if an employee chooses to take this up.
Despite having to screen all employees, a business is in good standing to benefit from this financially and will also likely see a degree of morale improvement in staff.
Other ways to improve the employee mental health
There are also other ways to improve the mental well-being in a workplace that do not involve formal screenings. These may be large changes or relatively small changes within the company – any change for the positive is likely to elicit better cohesion amongst staff which will subsequently improve morale.
Make an action plan
An action plan is a good place to start when thinking about implementing changes to the work environment to ensure that all the changes are thought out and will have the positive impacts desired. Doing this will help avoid changes that are inadvertently detrimental to the workplace morale and people’s wellbeing.
A plan also ensures that people in managerial and higher position roles are on board with the project, as people throughout the company will all need to be involved to make a completely cohesive positive environment.
A lot of what will need to be done will be with the intention of removing the stigma of mental health to ensure people do not feel ostracised when they are experiencing difficulties.
One good way to do this would be to set up areas known as ‘Mental Health Open Zones’ and ‘Open Wellbeing Zones’ in communal areas such as cafeterias or the staff kitchen.
These previously mentioned ‘Mental Health Open Zones’ are not designed to replace the Human Resources department where people who feel they are suffering may turn to for advice. This is another area where mental health awareness can be brought in.
Training for HR and managers
Specific training for Human Resources staff and even line managers can be provided by businesses to help staff in these roles to deal with requests for assistance by employees. It can also help to identify signs in staff that they may be struggling.
Training would include professional and compassionate ways to approach these instances and could involve establishing links with local mental health professionals.
Large corporations may consider having one member of their Human Resources team dedicated solely to mental health and wellbeing, but for many smaller companies extra training should be more than adequate.
Employee training workshops on mental health
Training does not have to be limited to these roles either. Mental health workshops or workshops aimed to inform people on improving their mental wellbeing could be a great addition to a company’s regular training programmes.
The more people that are aware of positive mental health activities and who are on board with the company changes, then the more likely you are to have a successful transition into a more mentally healthy work place.
Unfortunately, sometimes as a business you will not be able to control the input that your staff give to workshops and positive well-being promotions.
Other ways in which you can improve the mental health over the long term
- Working more hours than expected, working at weekends and evenings
The main area you can control as a business is the time that people work. In the modern world we are often working longer hours, working from home in the evening and working on our time off. This in turn leads to less time to unwind and higher levels of stress. As a business you can be mindful of this and can impose limits on the amount of work that can be completed outside of work hours. This may be through limiting overtime, limiting email access after regular working hours or by ensuring that enough staff are assigned to a job so the workload is more equally spread out. Whilst this may not seem like an ideal step to take, you will likely see a greater work output from a less stressed and a better rested workforce.
- Mental health appointments for employees
As a business you can also improve access to facilities to improve people’s mental well-being. For instance, you could promote a scheme in which mental health appointments (such as psychotherapy sessions) can be taken during work hours without penalty, or at least with more flexibility.
If a person has an hour lunch break and requires a psychotherapy session that lasts fifty minutes, then consider an increased lunch break for that employee for the duration of their treatment to help further relieve the stress on the situation.
- Mental Health insurance for employees
If you are a company that provides health insurance you may wish to consider policies that include mental health treatment. This may not have been something you would have previously considered but a number of medical plans unfortunately do not cover the cost of mental health care. When your company’s plan is up for renewal you may choose to take the extra time to ensure this important aspect of an employee’s health is also protected.
- Diet and exercise of employees
Improved access to exercise and healthy eating facilities may also be beneficial as both of these areas have been shown to improve a person’s mental wellbeing. Improving access to both exercise and healthy eating should be fairly straightforward to implement for many organisations.
Exercise can be promoted through company gym memberships and facilities if these are applicable but smaller firms can also promote this by encouraging cycle to work schemes and lunch time running clubs. Out of hours’ sports clubs could also be promoted with many work based sports leagues also in existence.
Healthy eating can both be promoted through encouragement to eat fruit and vegetables but also through changes to any work provided cafeterias. This does not mean eliminating all unhealthy options but instead making healthy foods more readily available and available at affordable prices.
As we mentioned, this page is simply a suggestion on how you as a workplace can improve your employees’ mental wellbeing. There are however a vast number of programmes and changes that you can implement, and these will change depending on your size and industry. It may be best to simply ask your employees what they feel would benefit them in the long run. Ultimately, by simply considering making changes for the better, the first step has been made.
What can employers do to engage their staff in mental health improvement programmes?
So far we have outlined a number of ways that employers can make changes and implement programmes to improve mental health awareness in the workplace. However, the greatest proportion of a company is the employees. Without the employee ‘buy in’ then changes and initiatives are destined to fail. Therefore, any plans for change need to be a joint venture between the employee and employer.
Employees play a pivotal role in helping to implement change and the chart below shows a selection of roles that both the employee and the employer have in such programmes. Whilst this is far from an exhaustive list, what it does illustrate is that both employees and employers will have similar roles that will need to play off of each other to improve mental health and well-being of staff.
The processes of implementing new programmes by employers and testing these programmes by the employees also have similarities with both being cyclical in nature. Even with greatly researched action plans many people will find that changes and programmes will not work perfectly when implemented and alterations will be needed. Below are two flow charts that highlight these processes. Importantly, for a change to have the best chance of succeeding, the flow charts of the employer and employee will intercept each other both in the planning and feedback phases.
The role of the employee is just as important in making changes in the business ethos, as the role of the employer. Arguably the role of the employee is more important as it is their feedback that propels change.
Through joining forces, businesses, employers and employees can together make for a more ideal positive mental health environment in the workplace.
Promoting positive mental health and dealing with mental illness as an employee
We now spend a great portion of our adult lives either in the office or completing work related tasks at home, instead of taking the time to relax and recuperate. Spending this much time on work related tasks increases the impact that working life has on our mental health.
Therefore, it is important that as an employee you find a way to improve your mental health at work and encourage your employer to make necessary changes for the good of their workforce.
When people think about mental health problems they are often treated as taboo but it is important to remember that, like physical health, mental health is important for our day to day lives and we should do what we can to preserve our mental wellbeing. It is important to realise that mental illness is not uncommon and as such should not be treated as a topic to avoid. In fact, 1 in 4 adults per year are likely to suffer from mental illness.
Get your staff fundraising for us and we will help you embrace a positive mental health environment at work
If your company is fundraising for The Shaw Mind Foundation, why not download our free ‘Mental Health Open Zone’ poster to display in your workplace? These posters help communicate to staff and other stakeholders that your organisation is a ‘Mental Health Open Zone’ and that you are an employer that welcomes staff to openly discuss mental health issues without judgement and that you are working hard to reduce the stigma that often follows mental health.
To find out more please see our fundraising page.