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Employers Failing to Meet Basic Standards in Employee Mental Health

Employers Failing to Meet Basic Standards in Employee Mental Health

Date: 9th October 2018 | By: Claire Malley | Categories: Employment law

To mark World Mental Health Day 2018 we review the key issues leading to stress in the workplace highlighting that some UK employers are still failing to meet basic standards when it comes to supporting their staff with mental health. Poor mental health is the most common reason for people taking time off work, costing businesses an estimated £10.6 billion in sickness absence and £21.2 billion in reduced productivity per year (NHS data).


However, despite 93 per cent of employers considering workplace wellbeing to be an important business need, more than a third of companies do nothing to support the wellbeing of their staff.

The two biggest causes of workplace absenteeism are identified as being musculoskeletal problems and stress. Conditions that were inextricably linked to each other and to mental ill-health. The biggest proportion of these issues are attributed to ‘presenteeism’ – turning up at work when you are ill, and/or underperforming because of stress caused by:

  • Long hours and excessive workloads
  • Lack of control or trust and poor working relations
  • Low morale reduced productivity
  • Long-term absence
  • Conflict and litigation

All of these factors are potential precursors to mental ill-health. This not only has a massive impact at a personal level but also on the costs to business.

A recent NHS analysis of 12 million GP-issued fit notes, found that one in three were linked to mental or behavioural disorders. The number of workers signed off sick or placed under restricted duties because of stress or anxiety increased by 14 per cent between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

More than half of employers have stated that they were likely to invest in workplace wellbeing in the future however, the key obstacles revolved around practical action rather than awareness. Despite the increased knowledge of mental health challenges, the stigma linked to these issues still exists and has not yet been removed.

Prioritising Wellbeing at Work

Many organisations internally struggle with who ultimately has the responsibility to implement change and wellbeing strategies. Once assigned, it is often the case that those given the responsibility may already have an existing full workload, leading to wellness agendas being unintentionally deferred or labelled ‘not a priority’.

Matt Liggins, Director of Wellbeing at Health@Work, said it was important for employers to encourage “open conversation” about mental health in the workplace: “By acting as a critical friend for businesses and shaping how people think about workplace wellbeing – encouraging open conversations about all important aspects of health, including stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues – we can enable businesses to proactively address issues within their organisation to ensure a healthy culture and positive working environment.”

James Harris, Associate Director of Communications at Rethink Mental Illness, added: “Supporting mental health in the workplace is not only good for employees but for businesses too. It means that people can be more productive and less likely to need time off.

“Often, supporting mental health at work is much easier and cheaper than people realise. Initiatives like individual wellbeing plans, mental health training and flexi-time, for example, can go a long way to making your workplace more accommodating.”

Contact our expert Employment Law team today for advice and support with any workplace HR issues you need guidance with.

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