Cliff Lee, head of Rightsteps, emphasises the importance of employers engaging with their employees regarding mental health


An overwhelming one in six UK employees will experience a mental health issue at any one time. This statistic sets out the message clearly for employers; the most common forms of mental ill health: stress, anxiety and depression, are huge issues for employees and employers alike, and must be addressed.

The cost is significant for businesses – and not just in absence, although research from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) in 2014 shows that the average length of absence due to stress related conditions is 23 days. That aside, an employee who is suffering but remains in work will be significantly less productive.

The Centre for Mental Health estimates the cost to business at over £1,000 per employee per year through sickness absence, staff turnover and lost productivity – presenteeism.

The business case for employers supporting their staff with their mental health is growing ever stronger, as stress-related absence increasingly becomes one of the top reasons for employees taking leave from work.

Despite this many UK businesses are not providing appropriate support to individuals struggling with mental health conditions, or reducing the negative effects that they can present within the workplace.

For many organisations, the key to reducing absence and presenteeism due to mental health issues is to ensure managers are speaking to their staff regularly, building wellbeing into their supervision structures: helping them to identify much earlier when people are struggling and making it more likely that early interventions can be made. Talking more openly about mental health also nurtures a culture in which employees feel comfortable to disclose issues without fear of stigma or discrimination.

Line managers should be trained to engage with people who have mental health issues. We know that for many managers the thought of discussing a mental health issue can be hugely daunting, usually because they are unsure of what support is available. Providing information of what support is out there allows them to advise employees on how to access support, including signposting them to an EAP service or the employees’ own GP.

A growing number of employers also utilise a management referral approach to treatment such as Rightsteps. This approach acts to support employees in overcoming their individual challenges, whilst protecting their organisation from the potential issue of “reasonable foreseeability”.

In organisations where there are structured, clearly communicated and robust processes which are understood and followed by managers when tackling the negative effects of mental  health issues, both absence and presenteeeism is reduced significantly.

Rightsteps uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to build employees’ resilience to future problems, an intervention which assists the employee in managing their condition, by developing long term coping strategies.

After an initial assessment, a bespoke programme of support is developed, incorporating a blend of CBT interventions and self-guided help. The programme helps the individual understand more about their condition, the triggers for it, and how with help of their Wellbeing Practitioner providing the necessary support at every step of the way, they develop a personal toolkit of coping strategies which can be utilised to help them in managing their own mental health ongoing.

Companies need to focus on prevention and intervention – rather than waiting for the doctor’s fit note to identify the issue. The use of CBT interventions in the Rightsteps service significantly reduces absence periods: 85% of people absent at the point of referral return to work within three sessions or less. For those in work at the point of referral, our experience is that 94% will remain in work.

Our research shows that for each £1 spent on Rightsteps, savings of £6.47 are achieved in occupational sick pay (and associated costs) for the referring company.

Our primary goal for employees referred to us is to maintain attendance in work. The structure that work provides is beneficial – keeping your mind active and maintaining structure in your life. In addition the social interactions within the working environment can significantly contribute in minimising the negative effects of the individual’s condition. For many struggling with a low mood, being in a supportive work environment is hugely positive, and utilising their colleagues and managers as part of their recovery can help them in overcoming their anxieties.

At Rightsteps our core motivation is to help employees remain in work, whilst minimising the impact of their condition on their employers’ business. We manage the stresses of everyday life, by taking the right steps to ensuring your employees’ wellbeing.

For more information about the service contact 0300 123 1530