Posted By Chloe Grass-Orkin

Posted on19th May 2016

“What do you do?” It’s often the first thing we ask someone when we meet them. That’s because our job is such an important part of our sense of identity and self worth. However, the regular working day can be difficult: work-related stress, the pressure of looming deadlines, or the daily commute can all impact on our mental wellbeing.

Research conducted by Westfield Health is shedding some light on our mental resilience in the workplace, and the findings indicate that the problems surrounding mental health at work are actually much bigger than people might first think.

More than a third of respondents reported that their working environment is having a negative impact on their mental state of mind, and one in two said their workplace doesn’t manage mental health well.

What’s more, the findings show that more than a third UK employees have suffered a mental health issue due to the negative impact of a physical ailment. There is a worry that the mental element will be masked by the physical problem and go undetected and unaddressed. Often the physical illness will be treated and openly talked about, but the mental element may be hidden.

These findings indicate that UK employers face a ‘mental health iceberg’, with only a small proportion of mental health problems being recognised and managed, and a much larger proportion of issues remaining hidden below the surface.

The problem is bigger than you think

Despite mental health problems affecting one in four of us, there seems to be this great chasm between staff and managers when it comes to dealing with mental illness in the workplace. On the one hand we have bosses who don’t feel equipped to support their staff properly, and on the other we have employees who don’t feel they can approach their managers, and sometimes even feel they need to lie about why they are having time off, often citing a physical health problem instead.

The implications of ignoring mental health are far reaching. The business cost of mental ill health among the UK workforce is thought to total £26 billion. Sickness absence leads to missed deadlines, lower productivity, and extra overtime costs to provide cover.

So what can be done to improve the current situation and make mental wellbeing a priority in the workplace? In the Westfield Health survey, eight out of ten employees felt that the responsibility for managing health and wellbeing should be shared between the employee and the employer. Dialogue can be a key component, both for breaking down stigma and helping people to discuss any problems they feel are impacting on their mental health. This could mean setting time aside in one-to-ones to ask your employees how they are doing, both in and outside of work.

Other adjustments could include introducing flexible hours, developing work – life balance initiatives, or introducing some kind of mentoring scheme.

Additionally, providing training to key members of staff can help change a workplace’s approach to mental wellbeing, supporting staff so that they feel properly equipped to address any problems with employee mental health. Rethink Mental Illness runs courses in addressing negative attitudes to mental health, overcoming barriers to communication, and finding ways to manage difficult conversations.

Managing mental wellbeing should be part and parcel of any workplace setting – it’s not only good for staff, but it’s good for business too.

For more information and advice on mental health in the workplace, you can read Rethink Mental Illness’ factsheet here. You can also call the Rethink Mental Illness advice service on 0300 5000 927 (lines open Monday to Friday 09:30 – 4pm and calls charged at local rate).

Chloe Grass-Orkin is member of the Rethink Mental Illness media team.

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