Why is the state of Mental Health Services in the UK an issue for Employers?

In our second article looking at Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace Vanessa Scrimshaw examines the increasing responsibilities of organisations to support their people in respect to mental as well as physical health. As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close, we share some challenges that organisations are facing and some areas that may assist them to ensure their people’s Mental Health is sustained, protected and supported. 

Why is the state of Mental Health Services in the UK an issue for Employers? Is it reasonable to expect employers to pick up the baton caused in part by years of underfunding in the NHS?

There is no question that employers understand that they have a legal obligation to provide their employees and workers with a safe place of work, both in terms of the risks of physical harm and mental harm. Yet employers are facing ever increasing pressure from society to go well beyond this obligation and put increasing amounts of resources into prevention and support for employees who suffer from mental ill health or mental health problems.

With over 1 in 4 of us suffering from poor mental health, 2 million people currently on NHS waiting lists for mental health services, and the number of young people struggling having nearly doubled in the last 7 years, employers have little choice but to step in and bridge the gap. 

It is also worth noting that the value added to the economy (estimated in 2017) by people who are at work and have or have had mental health problems is as high as £225 billion per year, which represents 12.1% of the UK’s total GDP. 

(Mental Health Foundation. (2016). Added Value: Mental health as a workplace asset. Mental Health Foundation: London.)

Rather than debating whether or not it is right that employers feel this obligation, they are facing up to the fact they have little choice considering how difficult it is to recruit and retain talent within their business. Skill shortages in many sectors are already impacting how fast some businesses are able to grow and develop, so the discussion on how we attract and retain those with mental health concerns has become business critical. 

We know that potential new recruits with a history of mental health concerns are far more likely to join a company whose benefits and reputation reflect a supportive culture and we know what the impact will be on our business if 1 in 4 of our team are at home awaiting NHS support. So, if we take the ‘Human’ out of resources and just talk business this has become a matter of supply and demand for employers and business. 

Put another way, if we try to grow our businesses but can’t attract the talent or retain our current talent, we need to service the business, we will have to turn to our existing employees and put extra pressure on them to work longer hours and increase productivity. This in turn could jeopardise their health and lead to higher absence.  

An organisation which is known for imposing a stressful working environment may face difficulties in recruitment and retention and also suffer from low morale. Customer loyalty may be lost if high rates of absenteeism and presenteeism result in poor quality of service, while companies which have a good reputation for caring about the wellbeing of their workforce may generate goodwill among potential customers as well as employees. 

The government should be encouraging and incentivising employers to put in place systems and policies for employees including access to mental health services. Giving employees access to these services rather than having them sitting on NHS waiting lists has to be a ‘win, win, win’ for the NHS, the employee and the employer. Yet employee benefits like private healthcare are subject to further taxation through BIK rules. 

It seems that our Government intends to focus on the 11 million ‘fit notes’ issued in the UK last year and reforms to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) scheme. These changes can only increase pressure on employers by forcing those who are not fully capable to return to work to go into a workplace that they will struggle to be successful in. 

Despite the lack of Government policy to support the business community organisations in the UK are already ahead of the game and well placed to take up the challenges ahead.

An organisation which has a good reputation for supporting its employees at times of personal difficulty may gain an advantage over its competitors in keeping existing team members and attracting new ones; similarly, the morale and engagement of all employees may be improved as people realise that they themselves will be treated fairly if they experience mental health or other problems. 

In our blog last week Diversity in the workplace (newdawnresources.co.uk) we looked at the different needs of each generation and acknowledged that as we age there may be other issues that could become barriers to work.  Mental health changes due to aging can be from the menopause to increased anxiety levels, to pressures each age or changes in life may bring.

How to start or develop the culture you are already building within your organisation?

Start with the development of your mental Health and Wellbeing strategy. A workplace mental health strategy is a plan that aims to create mentally healthy workplace. Within this plan are a number of policies and practices that are designed to promote wellness in the workplace and positively influence workplace culture and the overall employee experience. Before you start don’t forget to include and collaborate with your employees on it as you go. 

  1. Think about the cause of mental Ill Health and what you can do to tackle them this can include:
  • Working long hours with little to no breaks
  • Working to unrealistic expectations or deadlines
  • High-pressure environments (with little support)
  • Poor working conditions
  • Unmanageable workloads
  • Poor communication with colleagues and/or managers
  • Lack of managerial support
  • Job insecurity
  • Working alone

Feeling valued, in control, and well-supported will have the opposite effect.

2. Think about putting the infrastructure in place to protect employees from risk factors at work that might harm their mental health and wellbeing. Potential causes of mental health problems at work include:

  • Increased or unmanageable workloads
  • Discrimination or bullying
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of support
  • Inflexible working hours
  • Unclear objectives

3. Think about how you can communicate and talk about the support and changes you’re making to ensure buy-in at every level.

If your employees can see that their employer lives and breathes their values in regards to mental health, they feel more confident to come forward and share how they are feeling before their issue becomes a bigger problem. They also know from the outset how and where they can access support.

Mental Health Awareness Week | Mental Health Foundation

How to support mental health at work | Mental Health Foundation