Mental health in the workplace: Removing the stigma

Thanks in part to recent media attention, as a society we are beginning to grapple with the stigma of mental illness and its long overdue recognition as a common health issue. Businesses are also increasingly aware of the scale and impact of poor mental health in the workplace, but there is still a very long way to go.

Mental Health Charity Mind estimates that approximately 25% of people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, and in England, one in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week. A 2016 Mental Health Foundation report also notes that one in five adults has considered taking their own life at some point.


The sheer scale of these statistics make for grim reading, and my experience is that few employers are aware of the issues and even fewer are talking about it.


A Mind study around workplace-related stress found that more than one in five have called in sick to avoid work and 14% have resigned – while over 40% have considered doing so. Surprisingly, the Mental Health at Work Report 2017 published by Business in the Community reports that less than a quarter of line manager have received any training in mental health issues.


So whilst the evidence shows that poor management of mental health has a  significant impact on businesses, it appears that mental health remains a taboo subject.


From my conversations with other business leaders, the reason why so many employers remain hesitant to confront the issue is often down to a simple lack of knowledge and resources. This view is reflected by Mind who also note that 56% of employers would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance.


As a people-driven organisation, our staff are at at the centre of all we do, so creating a healthy environment is fundamental to our success. Our view is that making Connect Assist a supportive, positive and enabling place to work is as good for business as it is for our people. For example, we took the decision to offer an Employee Assistance Programme. Available 24/7, 365 days a year it provides a free, confidential, information service as well as advice and support on many areas, be they work or home related.


We are proud that 80% of our workforce feel that joining Connect Assist has had a positive impact on their lives, according to our employee survey.But the benefits are not just felt by our staff. In our case, the services we operate touch the lives of more than a million people every year, including those living with mental health issues. It’s so important that those services are delivered by people who understand how to be empathetic and create good outcomes.


All the evidence suggests that by creating the right culture to support our staff’s mental welfare we not only create a better working environment, but we deliver a better service to our customers; especially to those who are most vulnerable. On our journey to creating a mentally healthy and happy workplace, we have learned that it isn’t difficult to create an open, transparent dialogue around mental health in the workplace. In fact, there are many small and practical steps that can be taken to help make every workplace ‘mentally healthier’.


Firstly, promote wellbeing. The link between employee engagement and wellbeing has long been proven, so it’s worth thinking about how you can promote work life balance and a positive working environment.


Secondly, consider where they may be triggers such as poor managerial support or lack of control over work – and work to remove them.


Thirdly, take stock of the team’s mental health. Get to know them and what makes them ‘tick’, have regular one to ones and learn how to spot the warning signs early.


By developing and maintaining positive working relationships in your team, you can create an environment where people feel able to ask for help when they need it and once you know what you’re dealing with, it makes it easier to support your staff.


Mind has a wealth of excellent resources to help organisations manage mental health in the workplace. Mental health management can be daunting, but in reality, starting a conversation about it doesn’t have to be difficult.


Large organisations like Adidas and Nomura have all been recognised in 2017 for the creative, progressive ways they are addressing employee wellbeing.  Also on the list, however, are much smaller organisations, which shows that it isn’t necessarily size that matters when it comes to investing in organisational mental welfare.


The example set by CEO Ben Congleton in response to an employee who posted a mental health sick note on Twitter drew much deserved attention, is a great example of doing the right thing.


Mental health in the workplace is an issue that isn’t going away.  I believe that companies that work with their staff to de-stigmatise mental health issues and co-create effective strategies to minimise its impact will be the winners in the long run.


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