Prince Harry, Actor Ryan Reynolds, Singers Lady Gaga & Demi Lovato, footballer Aaron Lennon.......2017 has seen mental health issues highlighted by a number of celebrities, bringing to the attention of the general public a problem that has been overlooked for far too long here in the UK.
According to a recent independent Government review (“Thriving at Work”) 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems lose their jobs every year. ”The cost of poor mental health to the UK Government is between £24 billion and £27 billion. This includes costs in providing benefits, falls in tax revenue and costs to the NHS.”
Meanwhile, the “annual cost to employers in the UK is between £33 billion and £42 billion (with over half of the cost coming from “presenteeism” – when individuals are less productive due to poor mental health in work) with additional costs from sickness absence and staff turnover.”
It’s not all bad news as the report indicated that many companies throughout the UK were found to be developing good practices. But, why are these good practices the exception rather than the rule? Why have we in the UK (and we like to think of ourselves as a leading nation) been so slow to understand and prioritise the importance of improving mental health at work?
Much like physical health, preventing mental illness rather than curing it is both cheaper and more effective. The first step is removing the stigma of working with our mental health. It wasn’t so long ago that the idea of going to the gym or yoga classes was alien to a large section of the population, yet now we all understand the benefits (even if we don’t practice them!) of regular exercise in some form. It's time we felt more comfortable talking openly about our anxieties, bouts of depression or the fact that we visit a therapist or coach? It’s only when we view a meeting with a mental health expert as a positive thing that we can truly say attitudes are shifting. By offering employees the opportunity to see a specialist before problems occur, understand their true worth and discover their true potential, the benefits will be profound, both emotionally to the individual and financially to the organisation.
From an emotional perspective the human cost of poor mental health is huge, with knock on effects beyond the individual involved, to family, friends and society as a whole. If employers are unable to appreciate the importance from the emotional language then this report highlights in words they will understand. Employers are losing billions of pounds because employees are less productive, less effective, or off sick…….between £33 billion and £42 billion!
The report goes on to suggest a framework of actions, “Mental health core standards” that organisations should follow to achieve positive results in the workplace in a short space of time. These procedures include developing mental health awareness among employees and encouraging open conversations and support when employees are struggling. Promoting healthy work-life balance, opportunities for development and effective people management through the hierarchy and monitoring employee mental health and wellbeing.
These steps are really just a start and I would argue a bare minimum, but the fact that the subject of mental health has been thrust in to the spotlight is encouraging, and one would hope that more and more organisations will begin to take it more seriously and invest in their people. With reports suggesting that every pound spent on the mental health of employees can return up to 10 times in productivity, that is a pretty sound investment!
It's time for every company, however big or small, to analyse what they are doing to promote positive mental health in their organisation. If there is nobody in place who is able to offer this support, there may be a cost in bringing someone in to create a resourceful focus for their employees......but as we have heard before, that cost may well be the best money your company ever invests!