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News: Mental health is workplace asset

Rhian Morgan

UK workers with mental-health problems make a major contribution to the economy. We look at a new report that shows how mental health is an issue that affects every organisation

New research reveals that people with mental-health problems deliver significantly more value than costs for the UK economy.     

The report, entitled Added Value: Mental Health as a Workplace Asset, includes a new economic analysis by Oxford Economics which quantifies for the first time that people with mental-health problems – working in a wide range of industries, from construction to entertainment – made an estimated £226 billion gross value added contribution to UK GDP in 2015 (12.1% of the country’s economic output). This is nine times more than the cost of mental-health problems to economic output – an estimated £25bn in foregone gross value added to the UK economy because of the cost of mental-health problems to individuals and to business.

The research - by the Mental Health Foundation, and employee benefits provider Unum - illustrates that by 2030, the foregone gross value added due to the challenges arising from staff mental health problems is predicted to rise to £32.7bn.    

Mental-health issues common in the workplace

A very substantial number of people in the UK live and work with a mental-health problem: an estimated 8.6m people aged 16-plus in the UK were affected by a common mental-health problem like stress, depression, or anxiety in 2015, and nearly 4.9m of them were in work (15.3 per cent of total employment in 2015).         

A further 590,000 people aged 16-plus had a serious mental-health problem like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, and an estimated 130,000 of them were in work (1.1 percent of total employed population in 2015).        

People with mental-health problems made up an estimated 15.9 per cent of total employment in 2015.  Of these, 75 per cent worked in the private sector   In 2015, an estimated 93,100 people were out of the labour force because they were caring for someone with a mental-health problem. A further 27,800 people were working reduced hours in order to care for someone with mental illness.      

Half suffering severe levels of distress at work

Building on this new understanding, the report also features findings from a major new YouGov survey commissioned by  the Mental Health Foundation to provide a unique insight into the every-day experiences of people with mental-health problems in the workplace and line managers. The survey  reveals the stark reality of distress in the workplace, shining a light on the biggest barriers to disclosure and suggesting strategies for protecting and improving mental health at work.

The survey found that 86% of respondents believe their job and being at work is important in protecting and maintaining their mental health. And 88% of those who had been diagnosed with a mental-health problem in the past five years reported having been through times where they felt stressed, overwhelmed or had trouble coping in the workplace.       

Of significant concern, almost half (49%) of those surveyed who had experienced a mental-health problem in the past five years have come to work whilst experiencing suicidal thoughts, clearly highlighting severe levels of distress in the workplace. Distress at work was not limited to those with a diagnosed mental-health problem: 39% of line managers who had no history of mental-health problems indicated they too had experienced distress of this kind at times, with 5% having been to work whilst experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings.    

Understanding disclosure at work

Disclosure – whether staff feel safe to tell an employer about a mental-health concern and what kind of reaction they experience – is crucial to improving and protecting mental health at work. In this survey, some 58% of respondents who had had a mental-health problem in the past five years had chosen to disclose this to an employer during that time, and the majority of those (54%) have had a mainly positive experience.    

However, 45% of respondents who had a mental-health problem in the past five years had chosen not to disclose to an employer in that time period. The biggest barriers reported were fear of being discriminated against or harassed by colleagues (44%), feeling ashamed to do so (40%), and the feeling that it is none of the employer's business (45%).    

Discrimination in the workplace

The report also found that 22% of respondents who had been diagnosed with a mental-health problem in the past five years reported having experienced direct discrimination because of their mental health. This rose to 29% of people who had chosen to disclose their mental-health problem.       

Just half of respondents who had disclosed a mental-health problem felt well supported by their line manager. And 20% of line managers agreed that people in their company would be less likely to progress if they disclosed having a mental issue.    

The research reveals the need for businesses to explore more effective ways of supporting employees and the mental wellbeing of the workforce as a whole.      

Tips for tackling the issues

The top three priorities for businesses to action identified by respondents to the survey were:    

1.       Developing a workplace culture that supports mental health and enables people to seek help when they need it.

 2.       A clear commitment from senior leadership to support mental health and wellbeing in the company.

 3.       Clear mental-health policies within the company which are implemented at all levels.       

In mid-November, Mental Health Foundation, Unum and Accenture will be holding a business summit, where representatives of businesses of all sizes will come together with key stakeholders to discuss the report and co-create a mental health manifesto with actionable steps for businesses to commit to.    

Commenting on the launch of the report, Jenny Edwards, CBE, CEO Mental Health Foundation, said: "Workplaces need leadership that demonstrates commitment to mental health as an asset of the organisation, and one that is critical to achieving business results or strategic outcomes.

"This needs to cascade from board champions and senior leadership to middle management and then first-line supervisors. At each level, leaders need to feel that investing in mental health is a valuable use of their time.

"At every touch point – whether analysing absence figures in the boardroom or in appraisal and performance management in frontline supervision – leaders need to understand how to engage with mental health."     

Liz Walker, HR Director, Unum UK, said: "Employee wellbeing is rising up the agenda of employers in the UK, and a fundamental aspect of this is safeguarding the mental health of staff.

"Organisations are responsible for ensuring practices are put in place to support those who live with mental-health problems, as well as those who may do so in the future.

"Line management plays a critical role in this – being able to spot the signs of distress, intervene early and know what support is available. By embedding a culture that is led by senior management, organisations can encourage a healthier work–life balance that is beneficial for both employee and employer."   

The report culminates in tangible recommendations to help businesses and organisations understand how they can create an environment that allows them to retain their best talent, and end intolerance and discrimination. If you need to manage stress and mental-health issues in your workplace, the organisation BITC also has a free toolkit you can access.

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