The current increased attention to mental wellbeing at work, and the growing recognition of its parity with physical health, is long overdue. High profile campaigns such as Time to Change, Mates in Mind and Heads Together have contributed to this shift in thinking, but there is still a lot of work to do.
There is a broad consensus that good practice centres on open communication, stress awareness and an informed approach to absence management and workplace adjustments. Collectively, these activities can help keep people well, help them recover when they feel unwell and ensure those with longer-term mental conditions are supported to stay in work.
Good mental health is good for businesses as well as people. The Institute of Employment Studies’ (IES) recent report, Unlocking employee productivity: The role of health and wellbeing in manufacturing, published in May 2018 on behalf of EEF, The Manufacturers’ Organisation and Westfield Health, concluded that positive mental health contributes to staff motivation, engagement, discretionary effort, commitment, performance and productivity.
A large survey of UK employees, Health, wellbeing and productivity in the workplace, published by RAND Europe in May 2015, showed that those with mental health problems are, on average, 13% less productive than their peers as a result of increased absence and presenteeism.
Another consideration is that younger employees are generally more likely to be open about emotional issues that previous generations considered taboo; they expect their organisation to take their duty of care very seriously.
So, it is definitely in employers’ best interests to have a mental health strategy that works for them and for their staff. The range of potential interventions and employee benefit options can be confusing, but the evidence base on what works is continually growing.
Ultimately, employers that do not take action could be perceived as out of step, placing them at risk of failing to attract and retain new talent. In decades to come, employees will likely question why decision makers today were so slow to take action.
Dr Sally Wilson is health, work and wellbeing policy research lead at the Institute of Employment Studies (IES)