The True Impact of Poor Mental Health at Work

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Guest Blog written by Dr Andres Fonseca; CEO of Thrive Therapeutic Software

Did you know that many individuals are struggling emotionally, leaving employment or taking days off work as a result? Did you know, in the UK 300,000 people with a long-term mental health condition leave employment every year – That’s the same as the whole population of Belfast.

Mental health in the workplace is soaring and it is becoming more crucial than ever to begin prioritising the well-being of your employees.

Although there are 1.5 million people in the UK with a diagnosed long-term mental health condition in work 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 without a 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. There are numerous reasons why poor mental health should be a concern in a company. Some of those concerns include absenteeism, presenteeism, limited ability to progress at work, impacts on a wider workforce and, of course, costs.

The cost to employers is shocking if they don’t take the steps to support their employees. Poor mental health costs employers between £33 and £42 billion per year. The cost of poor mental health to the government is between £24 and £27 billion per year while the cost to the UK economy is between £74 and £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?

There are a number of different factors that may contribute to the high levels of work-related stress, anxiety or depression. One of these are the different sectors of work you are in. Those more likely to be at risk also include those with pre-existing mental health conditions, those with home life pressures, such as working mothers and also the new generation of workers who are new to the stressors of work life.

Research has shown that over 17 years of studying working mothers, women’s perception of time pressure increased depending on the number of hours worked and. These negative perceptions of time pressure can lead to an increase in stress, depression and sleep disorders. Overall, it was found that working mothers are a group at risk of time stress, and are vulnerable to the long-term effects of this on their health. Juggling too great a workload along with other responsibilities can also easily lead to burnout. This can include inability to fully concentrate, forgetting simple things, loss of appetite, feeling anxious or depressed, physical pain including chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and headaches, not being productive, wasting time and finding distractions from your normal routine. Each of these things will affect productivity and work standards. Though the study was primarily carried out on women, it should be important to note that working fathers can experience stress and burnout also.

Another group more likely to experience workplace stress is the new generation of workers. Younger employees are more likely to experience stress associated with work compared to older, junior colleagues. A recent study has found that those between the ages of 16 and 35 reported higher stress levels in their working environment compared to those over 36 years of age. All generations surveyed agreed that the biggest stressors of work were lack of staff followed by salary. Younger workers were also more stressed regarding their work-life balance and are more likely to have financial worries.

Mental health and well-being concerns can impact everybody, not discriminate against age, race, occupation or religion which is why every organisation should be taking steps to support their employees.

Here are a few ways that employers can best support their staff:

Creating the conversation around mental health
One of the key ways to support and improve employee mental health is to normalise it. By creating conversation, showing constant support and engaging in just simple things – such as asking your employees how they are doing, or talking openly about whatever issues you might have experienced, makes mental health seem like a normal concern. Talk about the resources, talk about the support available and express that you and the company are genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of every individual. Make it clear that employees who come forward with mental health conditions will not face penalties or consequences, just as they would not if they had diabetes or the flu. Make sure you are able to back up what you say with clear policies about how to support people and how to prevent stress. This might include providing access to counselling or providing digital interventions to prevent these conditions developing and to make it easy for employees to seek help confidentially.

Biophilic design
Biophilic design may sound complex and expensive, but it’s just involving natural elements in your office or workplace, such as plants or having windows that open to let in natural light. Biophilic design has been closely linked to good mental health and wellbeing and has been shown to increase concentration and productivity whilst also resulting in a reduction of in stress at work. According to ‘Oliver Heath Design’, when biophilic design is used in an office environment, productivity levels increase by up to 8% while wellbeing improves by 13%. In terms of educational environments, rates of learning can increase up to 25% if there are natural aspects involved in the design of the learning environment. Biophilic design is not only beneficial for mental health, but also for physical health.

Work/life balance
Having and maintaining a work/life balance is important for both employee wellbeing and productivity. Poor work/life balance can lead to burnout. Concentration will suffer as will productivity. More employees will be taking days off from work because they are emotionally and physically drained. There are a few ways you can improve your employees’ work/life balance, such as setting realistic targets, being flexible, helping them prioritise correctly, encouraging them to relax when they are at home and not expecting work to be done in their own time. You could even invest in a work/life balance training course or seminar. Lead by example, if you are stressed with your workload, it’s more than likely that your employees are too! Don’t work any longer than you need to.

If your company doesn’t have an ‘employee assistance programme’ (EAP) you should look into it. An EAP offers services to help your employees deal with personal problems and can help to reduce your health care and disability claims, increase your productivity and morale and lower absenteeism. They can cover numerous things however the most common issues they help with include alcohol or substance abuse, smoking cessation, divorce and marital problems, stress management, childcare, eating disorders, psychological or psychiatric problems, financial and legal issues. This is a great way to let your employees know that there is additional support there.

To find out how you can become an employer of choice, click here
By supporting your employees you are also supporting your organisation.