Sam Barrett explores how workplaces are dealing with mental health issues


Large numbers of people are affected by mental health issues. Around one in four people will experience some form of psychological problem over the course of a year, according to the Mental Health Foundation. And, according to data from the Office for National Statistics, at any time one in six employees is dealing with a mental health issue such as depression, anxiety or stress.

This says Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at mental health charity Mind, makes it vital that employers put the issue squarely on the workplace agenda.

She says: “In a survey we did we found three in five people said that if their employer took better action to support the mental wellbeing of their employees, they’d feel more loyal, motivated and committed.”

Ignoring these issues is definitely not good for business. According to a report by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health (Mental health at Work: developing the business case, 2007), workplace mental health problems cost the UK economy more than £26bn a year through lost working days, staff turnover and lower productivity.

And it’s not just the financial consequences that should concern employers. Dr Mark Winwood, clinical director for psychological health at AXA PPP healthcare, says the collateral damage from sick colleagues can be significant and long lasting.

“An employee dealing with a mental health problem can be anxious, snappy and intolerant,” he says. “I’ve known it destroy teams and, where employees are customer-facing, affect the integrity of the business.”

Looking at the causes

Understanding what can lie behind stress issues can help an employer provide suitable support. Unfortunately, work is the number one cause, with 34% of 2,000 staff surveyed by Mind (Populus, 2013) saying they found it very or quite stressful.

The trigger points vary but, in its 2014 Global Workforce Survey, consultancy Towers Watson found excessive workload and lack of control over hours was the main cause. Also high on the scale were inadequate staffing, unclear expectations, excessive organisational change and lack of support from managers.

Louise Aston, workwell director at Business in the Community, points out there are other factors. “Relationship breakdowns, bereavements, money issues and illness can all have an effect,” she says. “Staff can’t just dump these problems on the doorstep when they go to work, so employers need to be sensitive to everything that’s going on.”

Considering solutions

So creating a culture where there’s an openness to talk about mental health issues is essential. This can be achieved in a number of ways. Enabling employees to discuss any problems is important, with mental health champions and buddy systems helping to facilitate conversations.

Training line managers to recognise the warning signs is also sensible. “This helps to identify problems at an early stage but also removes some of the stigma,” says Stephen Hackett, head of health and risk at Aon Employee Benefits.

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are another useful tool, costing around £5 to £8 per employee a year. These provide free, confidential telephone-based advice as well as counselling where required.

While more than 50% of employees have access to an EAP, the secret to success is reminding the workforce that it is there, says Andrew Kinder, chair of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association. “Employers also need to highlight that it’s not just about emotional issues. EAPs can help with consumer issues, debt, legal problems, childcare and so on.”

As well as buying in support on products such as EAPs, medical insurance and group income protection, it’s also worth checking whether any benefits you already have offer free ad-ons.

The likes of Mind provides a number of resources for employers, including a free Health for Work Advice service (