Mental ill-health and workplace stress

Mental ill-health and workplace stress can have a serious negative effect on productivity and business efficiency.

The mental health of employees is as important in the workplace as their physical wellbeing.    It includes an individual's emotional, psychological and social wellbeing and influences how they handle stress. 

Poor mental health can vary from feeling "down" to suffering from anxiety and depression Usually, an individual's mental health will fluctuate depending on the pressures they are experiencing.

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The High Cost Of Ignoring Mental Health In The Workplace

The UK Department of Health advises that one in four people will at some point experience mental health issues and almost six in 10 employees (59%) experience workplace stress. A survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) revealed that stress and mental ill-health were among the most common causes of long-term workplace absence.

An employer’s failure to recognise mental health can be costly. Research shows that mental ill-health costs employers in the UK £30bn each year through lost production, recruitment and absence.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the annual cost of depression and anxiety in the workplace is $1 trillion per year globally. By contrast, the WHO emphasizes that workplaces that proactively promote mental health and support people with mental disorders have lower rates of absenteeism, increased productivity, and benefit from other economic gains.

Employers should take steps to tackle the causes of workplace stress and actively promote positive mental health among employees. This can be done in a variety of ways, from raising awareness, training and seminars to proactive wellbeing initiatives such as yoga classes and gym memberships.

Promoting a culture of good mental health will help to minimise the risk of employment-related mental ill-health and the risk of claims against the employer.

As highlighted in A Call to Action Proceedings from the Mental Health in the Workplace earlier this year, data accumulated over the past decade suggests that “comprehensive wellness programs, that incorporate mental well-being, flatten the cost curve on medical and productivity-related expenditures, allowing the company to return savings to its members.”

So, how can organizations take steps to start prioritizing mental health in the workplace?

Ways Managers Can Proactively Tackle Mental Health In The Workplace

All managers and organizations have the capacity to take the steps required to proactively address mental health issues and, in the process, do a better job supporting their teams, reducing burnout and increasing productivity.

In order to combat workplace stress, employers should:

  • Carry out a stress audit. This could involve asking employees to list any stress-related concerns.
  • Carry out an assessment of the health and safety risks employees are exposed to at work, including an assessment of work-related stress.
  • To show they are committed to taking work-related stress seriously, employers should implement an anti-stress policy. The policy should set out, for example the role and expectations of managers and supervisors to ensure the successful implementation of the policy.
  • Guidance on resolving cases of stress at work for both the employer and employees who might be suffering from stress, for example a confidential helpline and / or an occupational health service.

Employers need to ensure the policy is properly implemented in practice by:

  • Trained managers to recognise situations likely to cause stress, to identify symptoms of stress, and how they should manage stress and promote an appropriate culture.
  • Conduct return-to-work interviews following a period of sickness absence and performance appraisals. This will help to identify any underlying stress-related work absences or performance issues.

Start by taking care of your own mental health needs.

When you’re traveling on a plane with a small child, you’re asked to put your own oxygen mask on first. The same rule holds true for managing mental health. If you’re taking care of yourself, taking care of your team will be a lot easier. Remember, in times of uncertainty, people look up. Whether or not you intend it, people will model your actions.

To begin, start with something simple, sustainable and scalable. For example, make a decision to be more active, eat better and, if it’s an issue, drink less. Start small and build on your momentum.

This is critical:

If you promise yourself that you’re going to start meditating for an hour each day, you’ll likely fail to find the time to meet your target. By keeping your goals realistic, you’ll also be keeping everything in your circle of control.

Reduce the toxic elements in your workplace culture.

Take a long, hard look at your workplace or, better yet, bring in a neutral third party to carry out a 360 assessment. From your location in the corporate suite, the toxic elements in your organization may not be visible.

After all, people often go out of their way to mask problems. A trained workplace coach or facilitator, however, can check in with your employees and help identify patterns that may be making your workplace toxic.

Also, bear in mind that discovering that you have a bullying or harassment issue in your organization isn’t only essential if you want to address mental health concerns — it’s also a compliance issue.

 "Sexual harassment and assault in the workplace" are not just about Harvey Weinstein.

A similar social media campaign is playing out on Instagram among models who are sharing stories of abuse and harassment in the fashion industry.

Managing Stress

In order to combat workplace stress, employers should:

  • Carry out a stress audit. This could involve asking employees to list any stress-related concerns.
  • Carry out an assessment of the health and safety risks employees are exposed to at work, including an assessment of work-related stress.
  • To show they are committed to taking work-related stress seriously, employers should implement an anti-stress policy. The policy should set out, for example the role and expectations of managers and supervisors to ensure the successful implementation of the policy.
  • Guidance on resolving cases of stress at work for both the employer and employees who might be suffering from stress, for example a confidential helpline and / or an occupational health service.

Employers need to ensure the policy is properly implemented in practice by:

  • Trained managers to recognise situations likely to cause stress, to identify symptoms of stress, and how they should manage stress and promote an appropriate culture.
  • Conduct return-to-work interviews following a period of sickness absence and performance appraisals. This will help to identify any underlying stress-related work absences or performance issues.

Dealing with mental ill-health.

A CIPD survey found that "less than half of respondents report that their organisation support employees who experience mental-health problems very well or fairly well, while one in five (20%) say that their organisation supports such employees not very well or not at all.

Almost three respondents in 10 (28%) don't know how well their employer supports people who experience mental-health problems". Employers need to do more to ensure that employees feel supported with their mental health and should encourage open channels of communication.

The arbitration service Acas suggests employers could develop action plans to help promote positive mental health.

This could include:

  • The employer's objectives in relation to mental health and why it is committed to promoting good mental health.

What claims can an employee bring?

Breach of contract - an employee suffering from work related stress might argue that their employer has breached an express or implied term of their contract of employment.  Additionally, the employee is signed off sick from work due to stress or mental health issues and then subsequently dismissed, they might have a claim for unfair dismissal.

Disability discrimination - an employee might be protected from the disability discrimination act if they suffer from mental ill-health issues that have a substantial adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities and anxiety and depression could tall within this definition.

Whether or not an individual's work-related stress can be regarded as a disability will be for an employment tribunal to decide.

Business professionals lack the necessary training to address mental health in the workplace” and “often lack the skills needed to build a positive work environment where workers feel empowered.

To this end, they advise partnering with experts in mental health to develop executive training programs designed to prepare leaders to build and sustain a mentally healthy workforce. 

If you’re truly committed to addressing mental health in your organization, in 2019, consider the potential return on investment for contracting with or recruiting a partner with expertise on people and mental health.

There is no better way to destigmatize mental health than to make a mental health expert an integral part of your team.

Tony

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