Joy Reymond, head of vocational rehabilitation services, Unum, talks about the repercussions of mental health in the workplace

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Poor mental health is one of the biggest issues in the workplace today, causing over 70 million working days to be lost each year. This includes everything from the most commonly experienced symptoms of stress and anxiety, right through to more complex mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

As well as having a huge impact on individual employees, poor mental health can have severe repercussions for employers – including increased staff turnover, sickness absence due to debilitating depression, burnout and exhaustion, decreased motivation and lost productivity. But while companies of all shapes and sizes increasingly understand the importance of good mental health, many simply don’t feel confident handling and communicating these issues in the workplace.

Good mental health should be a priority for any business, and implementing it needs to involve more than just the HR department. It’s vital to get buy-in from senior leadership and make sure conversations about mental health and wellbeing happen at board level. Here are five ways to get your board on side.


Senior leaders are understandably under increasing pressure to cut costs and optimise return on investment, and may not immediately understand the business impact of poor mental health. Be prepared to make the business case and have information to back this up – come prepared with figures on staff turnover and morale, and bring relevant feedback from exit interviews.


We all work better if we have clear goals that we are working towards, and mental health in the workplace is no different. Identify the key drivers for mental health, and the key indicators; figure out how to measure these and what level the company should achieve; and ensure these are an integral part of your company’s performance targets.


Think about the best times to start a conversation with the board and get their buy-in. There are some important dates throughout the year which can help to get the conversation started, such as Mental Health Awareness Week in May and World Mental Health Day in October. However, don’t feel you have to wait for one of these. There may be relevant stories in the news that you can use as a hook or internal milestones like board meetings, staff surveys or staff absence reports that you can use to put mental health on the agenda. Think about the times in the year when your business is busiest and staff are under the most stress, so you can raise the issue ahead of time.


It helps to enlist a board member as your mental health champion – someone who will raise the issue at the highest levels of the business. It may be they have experienced a mental health problem themselves, or they may simply be passionate about looking after staff. They can also help to lead by example, encouraging more junior employees to think about their mental wellbeing at work.


Mental Health is still a taboo subject in the workplace. 67% of employees feel scared, embarrassed or unable to talk about mental health concerns with their employer. To break this taboo and create an open and caring culture it’s important to get your board on side and take a top down approach. If they are speaking out on the issue, perhaps even drawing on their own experience, then this attitude will trickle down to managers and then staff.

Here’s a place to start: to begin the conversation about mental health in the workplace, and to help build line manager awareness about workplace stress, we’ve developed an interactive online workshop. It offers a series of bite-size learning opportunities, presented in a lively and accessible way.

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