Core Standards of Employee Mental Health

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Blog written by the team at Thrive and Health Shield.

It’s 2018, why is employee mental health still deteriorating? Why are US suicide rates in the workplace soaring? Why are UK employers having to spend up to £2.4bn per year to replace staff who leave because of poor mental health, while 70 million workdays are lost every year because of mental health problems?

Surviving or thriving?

According to the study conducted by Stevenson and Farmer: Thriving at Work, more people with a mental health condition are in work than ever before. However, many individuals are still struggling emotionally or leaving employment due to their mental health condition. Did you know that 300,000 people with a long term mental health condition leave employment every year? That’s the same as the whole population of Belfast.

Although there are 1.5 million people in work in the UK with a diagnosed long-term mental health condition and the rate of employment has increased, there are still major hurdles which must be considered and challenges that must be faced. Individuals with long-term mental health conditions are still far less likely to be in work compared to those with no condition.

Research has also shown that those people with mental health conditions lose their jobs each year at double the rate of those without a mental health condition, and at a higher rate than those with a physical health condition. It should also be borne in mind that the physical and psychological are often intrinsically linked, with musculoskeletal issues, for example, often making mental health issues worse or even causing such problems in the first place (and vice versa).

There are numerous reasons why poor mental health should be a concern in a company. Some of those concerns being absenteeism, presenteeism and limited progression. These not only impact on the wider workforce but also have costs attached.

It’s telling that nearly 3 in 5 (57%) of people say that if their employer proactively supported their health and wellbeing, it would help them to feel more loyal, be more productive and take less time off, according to a recent employee poll by Health Shield. Please refer to the infographic below for more information on the poll results.

The costs

The first cost of poor mental health addressed in the Stevenson and Farmer review, is that of ‘human cost’ with the ultimate human loss being loss of life through suicide. According to Thriving at Work: “We know that rates of poor mental health and suicide are higher for employees in certain industries though clearly there are a number of factors. For example, men working in construction and decorating are more than 35% more likely to take their own lives, and female nurses are 24% more likely to commit suicide than the national average for women.”

The cost to employers is also shocking, with poor mental health costing employers between £33 – 42 billion per year. The cost of poor mental health to the government is between £24 – 27 billion per year while the cost to the UK economy is between £74 – 99 billion per year. So, rather than spending this much on poor mental health, why not spend a small percentage of the overall cost on prevention?

With only 4 in 10 organisations (39%) having policies or systems in place to support employees with common mental health problems, it is not surprising that almost 9 in 10 (89%) employers report no cases of employees disclosing a mental health condition. If there is no support in place, why would anybody come forward? In the light of their recent research, Stevenson and Farmer have developed mental health core standards which they believe all employers can and should follow.

What are the core standards?

The core standards to employee wellbeing in the workplace include:

  • Create, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan which promotes positive mental health of all employees and outlines the support for those who need it.
  • Develop mental health awareness among employees by making information, tools and support accessible.
  • Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling, during the recruitment process and at regular intervals throughout employment, offer appropriate workplace adjustments to employees who require them.
  • Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work-life balance and opportunities for development.
  • Promote effective people management to ensure all employees have a regular conversation about their health and wellbeing with their line manager, supervisor or organisational leader and train and support line managers and supervisors in effective management practices.
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing by understanding available data, talking to employees, and understanding risk factors.

Do you have a mental health plan for employees?

The majority of employers are fully aware that they should have an employee mental health plan in place, but few know what needs to be included to improve the wellbeing of their staff. A few things that need to be addressed in a mental health plan are as follows:

Reliable methods to capture the details of mental health problems in the workplace.
Without the basic data, it is impossible to produce a plan that is specific to the organisation and addresses the employees’ needs. A way to capture this data should be implemented and this should change over time with regular updates.

Procurement of the right training for all employees.
The ‘right training’ can only be determined once the specific needs of the workforce are understood. There should be some people trained in mental health first aid, but most managers should have a good understanding of how to discuss mental health issues and how to react to disclosures. All employees should have a basic awareness of mental health, how to build their resilience and how to seek support when needed.

It should address any work environment issues identified.
It is important that management buy into the plan as there might be budget implications to fulfil it. Resources should be allocated to make the changes needed to tackle the issues, and there should be named individuals with the responsibility to carry these out. The Thriving at Work review finds that investments in this area really pay off. The authors calculate that every pound spent returns £9.98.

Resources available to support employees and address identified issues.
There should be a clear pathway that enables the employee to transition from prevention, to screening, to receiving support, to recovery and back into prevention. This should be seamless and easy for employees to access.

This plan could be linked with others the organisation has in place, including efforts to improve employee physical health, a corporate responsibility plan, plans to increase staff engagement, sickness reduction plans or others.

Final thoughts

While 1 in 5 people take a day off and a quarter of people contemplate resigning because of stress, it’s harder to find evidence that what employers are doing for their workforces around mental health is working. There are numerous factors that contribute to workplace stress and burnout, including lack of control over work, heavy workload, tight deadlines, no challenges, too little work to do, lack of clear priorities, low pay, poor working conditions and undervalued social position.

Employers should try to be fully aware of any mental health problems within their company, yet with just under half of employees feeling as if they cannot open up to their line manager, it is difficult to provide a solution. New ideas that some companies are using to try to address the problem include having outdoor walking meetings, promoting healthy eating and physical wellness, and conducting one-to-one meetings about mental health.

CEO and Psychiatrist Dr. Andres Fonseca shares a few of his key points to maintaining a happy, healthy and productive workplace:

“As a psychiatrist myself and in the process of working with my team to take Thrive to where it is today I have learned that employees are happier when you focus on four things: giving them autonomy to make decisions, giving them resources to develop their skills, giving them a way to measure their own progress and helping them to find meaning in the work that they do. It is important for managers to be aware of stress and know how to improve the working environment. Prevention, early detection and having access to the right support at the right time. If you can get to the problem before it is a problem, your employees and organisation as a whole will thrive.”

It’s time to prioritise employee mental health, not just for them – but for your organisation too.

Dr. Andres Fonseca of Thrive will be presenting with Health Shield at Mad World on 9th October 2018 in a session entitled ‘The now and next of mental health in the workplace’, which will look at how employers can put in place care pathways to help integrate physical and mental health support.

Health Shield launched the NHS approved* Thrive mental health app as part of its Tailored Health Cash Plan earlier this year. This helps employees identify, prevent and self-manage common mental health conditions using techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness. To find out more about Thrive, click here. 

* The Thrive app meets NHS quality standards for clinical effectiveness, safety, usability and accessibility and has a supportive evidence base.