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Mental Health in the Workplace: Why Does Mental Health Matter?

Feb 05, 2019
Kimberley Wallace, Consultant
0333 400 7920 | kim@employassisthr.co.uk




In yesterday’s blog we looked at ‘What is Mental Health?

Today we’ll be looking at why this is important in the workplace and what responsibilities employers and businesses have to look after their employees’ mental health and wellbeing.

As Ezra outlined in yesterday’s blog, one in four people in the UK suffer from mental health issues every year. This means that most workplaces will have employees currently facing diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health challenges. 

However, the stigma associated with mental health means that many employees do not feel able to disclose the real reason of their absences from work. 

Mental Health First Aid England found that 90% of those who had time off work for stress felt unable to tell their employers of the real reason for their absence. Time To Change found that 49% of employers would feel uncomfortable speaking to their employers about mental health. This suggests that UK workplaces are not supportive enough to those facing mental health challenges.

Mental health related absences have a huge impact on the UK’s economy and its businesses, the Chief Medical Officer estimates that 70million working days are lost each year to mental health, costing Britain between £70-100billion a year. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that work-related stress alone causes over 11million sick days a year. The HSE found the most common reasons for work-related stress were task related reasons: ‘excessive workload’ and ‘unrealistic work expectations’. However, restrictive factors such as ‘work-life balance’, ‘lack of progression’ and ‘negative company culture’ also featured as top reasons for work-related stress absences.

This illustrates how work can either cause or aggravate pre-existing mental health conditions, with problems at work exaggerating an individual’s symptoms. 

Research from Time To Change indicates that two thirds of people with mental health problems believe that workplace stress contributed to their illnesses. 

Whether work is causing mental health issues, or aggravating an existing problem, employers have a legal responsibility to support their employees. However, many employers either do not know how to support their employees with such issues, or just don’t consider it to be their responsibility.

As employers have a duty of care towards their employees, businesses should assess the level of risk to staff. Where risks are identified, steps must be taken to remove it, or minimise it as much as possible. 

Businesses should be aware that people with a mental illness have a legal right to ask their employer to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their working environment and job. Employers have a legal obligation to make these reasonable adjustments under equalities legislation for those who are eligible, including individuals with mental health illnesses such as depression, bipolar or schizophrenia. 

So, are you doing enough to support your employees’ mental health?

In tomorrow’s blog, we'll be looking at what employers should be doing to look after their staffs’ mental health and wellbeing.

If you have any questions about our mental health blog series, if you have any concerns for your employees, or if you want to discuss mental health support at work, please contact EmployAssist. Kim and Ezra from the EmployAssist team are qualified Mental Health First Aiders.

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