Good mental health is good business - Business Works
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Good mental health is good business

Karen Steadman, Centre for Workforce Effectiveness, The Work Foundation 'Good health is good business’ a simple yet important message for employers. The costs of ill-health to employers can be huge – not just in terms of the costs of absence itself, but also the costs associated with lost productivity through working when ill (presenteeism) and replacing employees who have been lost to poor health.

Mental health conditions are a major cause of sickness absence and worklessness. It is estimated that in the UK right now, one in six workers are experiencing a mental health condition – usually anxiety, depression and stress. Employer surveys estimate that between 7 and 9 days per employee, per year are lost to sickness absence (around 1.5 million days per year) and 40% of these can be attributed to mental health problems.

The Centre for Mental Health estimates that the total cost to employers of mental health problems among their employees is nearly £26 billion each year. That is equivalent to £1035 for every employee in the UK workforce. Over half of this is attributed to lost productivity at work, with presenteeism thought to account for 1.5 times as much working time lost as absenteeism. It is identified that the costs of this to employers are particular high as presenteeism is more common among higher-paid staff.

It is estimated that effective management of mental health at work can save around 30% of these costs. Recognising the importance of mental health and ensuring employees with mental health conditions are supported at work is increasingly important for employers. But what can be done?

Given how common mental health conditions are, it is likely that most if not all organisations will be affected in some way. A major problem is that given the stigma surrounding mental illness and the fear of discrimination among sufferers, mental health problems may not be disclosed to employers – thus limiting opportunities to help directly.

There are however many things that employers can do to create a work environment more conducive not only to disclosure, but in terms of creating a mentally healthy workplace for all employees, which promote well-being for all staff. Raising awareness of mental health conditions among employees and promoting open dialogue about them is valuable, particularly in terms of reducing stigma. Education and training about the impact of stress and how it can be managed can be valuable for employees and managers alike. Policies about mental health related illness and what the organisation can do to help should be clearly communicated to ensure that employees are aware that help and support is at hand should they need it and where they can go to access it.

The mental health workplace adjustments guide, developed by the health at work network as part of the Responsibility deal (a Department of Health initiative) provides information on many simple, cost-effective adjustments that an employer can make in the workplace. These adjustments allow employees with mental health conditions to retain their jobs and to be productive and healthy and include allowing flexibility in working hours and work patterns, support with workload, or providing avenues for personal support.

In deciding what adjustments are appropriate for an individual, the important thing is for managers to have an open, honest conversation with individuals about how their condition affects their work, what the individual needs and how the organization can help.

This approach is important for supporting employees with any mental health condition. As identified in our recent report, such adjustments will also assist employees with more severe conditions, such as schizophrenia, to remain in employment too. These are issues that employers will increasingly face in their workforce – the important thing to remember is a little support can go a very long way.

Karen Steadman is a researcher for the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness at The Work Foundation

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