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Workplace mental health update

Data released last month from the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) 2017/18 survey shows that for the first time, work-related stress and anxiety now accounts for more than half (57.3%) of the total 26.8 million work days lost to ill health. The data found that 15.4 million working days were lost due to mental ill health, up from 12.5 million in 2016/17.

And new research out this week from management consultancy firm, Accenture has found that two thirds (66%) of UK workers report having personal experience with mental ill health. This rose to 85% when individuals were asked if someone close to them had experienced mental health issues and 90% said they had been “touched by mental health challenges”.

It is encouraging that 82% felt more able to talk about such issues than they did a few years previously and that more than a quarter (27%) of respondents said they’d seen a positive change in employees speaking openly about mental health. However, 61% have not spoken to anyone at work about their mental health and 51% believe raising concerns about it might have a detrimental effect on their career.

With the annual cost of poor mental health to employers estimated at between £33 and £42 billion (Thriving at Work report), it is clear that organisations must acknowledge this growing issue and take positive action to more effectively address workplace mental health.

Here, we look at the steps employers can take to remove the stigma around mental health and provide better support for employees?

Promote positive mental health

Creating a company-wide culture of acceptance around mental health is a crucial first step and business leaders can play a key role by opening and maintaining an ongoing conversation around mental health.

Earlier this year, for example, Cisco’s CEO, Chuck Robbins, felt compelled to address the issue head-on with his employees. He sent a series of company-wide emails explaining openly why he wanted to make mental health a priority as well as highlighting to employees the importance of accessing treatment and finding a support network. More than 100 employees responded to his note within days, some sharing in painful detail their own personal struggles. “I hadn’t understood the magnitude of the problem and the volume of responses we got back has led us to be more active,” said Robbins.

As you think ahead to 2019, consider the ways in which you might engage with your employees and how you can create an open dialogue on mental health. Taking a temperature check now will reassure employees that this is a top priority for the business and at the same time will provide valuable feedback to inform your mental health strategy planning in the coming months.

Mental health awareness training for managers

According to the latest Business in the Community (BITC) Mental Health at Work survey (October 2018), 61% of employees have experienced mental health issues as a result of work. Just 60% of employees feel their line manager is genuinely concerned for their wellbeing, although it is positive to note that this figure is rising (58% in 2017, 55% in 2016). The survey highlighted that a lack of high-quality mental health training for line managers continues to be a pivotal issue and that while 85% of managers acknowledge mental health is their responsibility, only 30% have had training.

“Mental health awareness training for line managers is so important as it makes them far more alert to certain behaviours and ensures they notice early on when someone is struggling,” explains IHC consultant and trainer, Bernice Price. “While mental health is recognised as a significant cause of absence, increasingly we are also seeing it being a cause of much presenteeism, where employees continue to work in spite of illness,” explains Bernice. “This results in loss of productivity for the individual but can also negatively impact those around them. This is particularly common in organisations with a culture of long working hours or during periods of job security.”

IHC’s Mental Health Awareness training workshop is designed to meet this need, equipping managers with the skills they need to recognise the early warning signs of mental ill health as well as coaching and supporting them in how to have those difficult conversations and how to direct employees to the support they need.

Signpost towards the right support

It is also vitally important that employees understand how to access the guidance and support that is available to them through their employer. A good Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), for example, can be invaluable in identifying the specific needs of an employee and can help determine if they need practical support, access to telephone or face-to-face counselling or, in more serious cases, referral for further treatment.

“Many employers already have EAPs, but a lack of awareness and understanding around the services means they can be under-utilised,” says Bernice. “When planning your mental health strategy for 2019, think about developing a series of promotional campaigns throughout the year to help raise awareness and ensure that both managers and employees know how to access the support services available to them.”

It’s also about keeping on top of the latest updates and trends and communicating those to your employees. For example, AXA PPP Healthcare has this month introduced online counselling to its EAP. Research shows that people are increasingly showing a preference for digital over telephone contact, so having an EAP in place that enables employees to live webchat to an expert could have a significant impact on usage figures and a positive effect on workplace mental health.

Talk to Bernice Price or your IHC consultant to find out more about the latest EAP trends and services and how you can support positive mental health in your workplace.

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