A study released today, commissioned by the UK Government on Mental Health in the Workplace, has highlighted that over 300,000 workers lose their jobs every year through long term mental health conditions.
Another shocking finding from the study was that this number was 50% higher than those losing their jobs through physical ailments. It goes on to suggest that there is still a lot of misunderstanding around the topic and that it is very much a taboo subject area in workplaces up and down the country.
The thriving at work report also has produced a financial figure that always seems to focus the business mind in all organisations and that is that the annual cost to the UK economy of poor mental health currently runs at £99bn and rising. £42bn of this sum is currently being bourne by UK employers and reflects in share prices, market caps and all the efficiency ratios that you can shake a stick at.
The authors feel that 3 reasons are responsible for rapidly increasing numbers and can be avoided:
- Lack of support at work
- Lack of understanding within some organisations
- Lack of speedy access to mental health services
The combination of people suffering from mental health issues feeling themselves excluded and those around them not identifying that someone has a problem is a grey overlapping area that is blind and untouched in many organisations.
The statistic that is of interest is that 15% of people currently holding down a job have symptoms of a mental health condition and these workers would be able to thrive, produce and maintain their employment status with the correct support and help ongoing. As a quick calculation on the back of a cigarette packet shows that £15bn could be saved each year just with this simple support and help system that keeps workers productive and eases any psychological burden from their symptoms.
Deloitte's analysis proved a business return of £1.50 to £9.00 for every £1.00 invested in mental health interventions at work. So there is clearly a business case for addressing poor mental health and its link to falling productivity levels. To increase work productivity could start here. A potential return of 800% sure beats offshore bank deposits, new projects and shareholder returns from organic growth added together.
The authors highlight 6 core standards that they recommend employers to do to help them with the issue on the grounds that they want to help but do not know where to start. To wait for paradigm shifts in the NHS to cover mental health in its entirety is a very risky strategy. It is leap years away and probably unfindable in the current model. The core standards are:
- Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
- Develop mental health awareness among employees
- Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available for struggling employees
- Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure healthy work/life balance and development opportunities
- Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors
- Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing
The issue surrounding good mental health in the workplace and its correlation with productivity is no longer businesses dirty little secret. It's out in the open, it is visible and it is most certainly doable. The thirst for talent is throwing up new challenges for business because millennials are asking potential employers what their mental health policies are, so the issue becomes a business and enterprise one, however you look at it.
I expect it very soon to be part of corporate governance and printed in annual reports, websites and marketing material, highlighting how the organisation looks at the health and wellbeing of their staff, both emotionally and psychologically. Future shareholders and investors will understand the financial correlation of mental health in the workplace and work productivity and choose to invest in either efficient, caring and supportive organisations or those taking the risk of shipping them in and shipping them out when the first symptoms are identified. Add to that potential future lawsuits and class actions gives you big numbers and possible problems.
Legislation like the Equality Act 2010 is leading the way and when workplace wellbeing and employee productivity become major business competitive advantage issues then actions need to be taken and organisations like the NHS and the government need to lead the way and start setting real examples for commerce to follow.
In conclusion, we welcome the report and its 40 recommendations for the whole of public, private and voluntary sectors to follow and let business sell the cost/benefit ratio to its shareholders in terms of money invested in mental health support with the returns in productivity gains often at the rate of up to 800%.
I hope that organisations take time to understand what the definition of mental health is and how many conditions can be addressed earlier in their life cycle to become removed completely or to be easily managed by the individual employee themselves. Many subjects like anxiety and simple depression can be alleviated by understanding what is going on with thoughts, feelings and actions and how they tap into beliefs, values and psychological cores of people.
They can be self managed without any medication, time off or presenteeism. Arming staff to handle pressure and to have a purpose at work are incredibly powerful mindsets to thrive. Our work starts with awareness, the process and the remedies. It helps remove extra management burden and uncomfortable conversations, it stays a positive thing and improves brain chemistry and structure. It produces profits through enhanced productivity in the workplace and at the same time improves workplace wellbeing.
Mental toughness, mindset and mentality are great tools to work upon just like any other form of learning. They can be developed, enhanced and perfected and there is no taboo. These techniques are used in sport, taught to the military, perfected by performers and learned by many in normal areas of life.
Geoff Greenwood FCCA MBA MSc