Why investing in employees’ mental health makes business sense

With work now the most stressful part of people’s lives, employers must create a culture that focuses on staff wellbeing, explains James Malia

2017 was the year we put mental health awareness firmly on the agenda – and about time too. Around one in four people will experience a mental health problem each year, but it’s still much harder to talk about than physical health. 

As work is now the most stressful thing in people’s lives, according to a poll by mental health charity Mind, employers must help tackle the issue. The government’s Thriving at work report looked at mental health in the workplace, and the long and short of it is we have a big problem that needs fixing.  

As many as 300,000 employees with a mental health problem lose their job every year. For businesses, that means missing out on a vast pool of talent who have already proved themselves worthy of their job. 

It’s not just about those who have lost their jobs. According to research by PwC, more than a third of the UK workforce is experiencing anxiety, depression or stress, and the number of days lost because of mental health issues has shot up in recent years. The truth is, employers that support their staff need to be the rule, not the exception.

Banish the stigma 

The biggest barrier facing businesses is the way we see mental health. Employees are afraid of discussing the issue with others in case they lose their jobs or are judged. A huge 85 per cent of workers feel there is a stigma attached to mental health issues in the workplace. 

There’s a big incentive for employers to step up. Sickness absence, staff turnover and presenteeism cost businesses between £33bn and £42bn a year, according the Thriving at work report. At a time when the UK is on a mission to boost productivity, why isn’t everyone 100 per cent committed to improving staff retention and morale? These huge sums of money should be reason enough. A study by Mind found that 60 per cent of employees would feel more motivated if their employer showed support for their wellbeing.

Business leaders must champion mental health awareness from the top down. They need to send out a clear signal that mental health matters. The stigma won’t go unless business leaders address it, normalise it and support it.  

Spot the warning signs 

The general feeling among mental health experts is that help is lacking in the workplace. The answer? Training. Managers need to have the skills to spot early signs of mental health problems. From changes in behaviour to acting withdrawn or unable to cope with daily tasks, managers should notice if someone is struggling.

What’s more, they should be given the tools to actively support their staff and make changes. Offering help early on may stop the situation from becoming worse. Managers don’t need to become experts in mental health, but they should be able to offer the right support. 

All-round aid

Worries, including money and work pressures, can have a knock-on effect on someone’s ability to do their job. Employers have the power to help staff deal with their concerns, and it makes both moral and business sense. Gestures such as providing external financial advice to help manage day-to-day living costs, and encouraging an end to unhealthy habits like working late nights and weekends, can all help. 

Creating a culture that focuses on employees’ wellbeing will result in greater productivity, morale and loyalty, and ultimately go a long way in improving a business’s bottom line. 

James Malia is director of employee benefits at Sodexo Engage