Why it’s important for businesses to protect mental health

Written by Chloe Hall.

Health and Safety Executive have published their annual report reviewing mental health at work in the UK, and it shows that mental health accounts for fifty one percent of all work-related illness. Mental health issues are now the majority of work-related illnesses, and are not something businesses can afford to ignore.

How mental health can impact businesses

From 2021-2022, approximately 17 million working days (over 46,000 years) were lost because of stress, anxiety, or depression.

Overall, 1.8 million members of the UK workforce suffered from work-related illness during the year, with 914,000 experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s clear that mental health is a crucial issue, and workplaces have a responsibility to tackle it.

How work impacts mental health

Approximately 2% of workers across all industries suffered from work-related mental health issues. HSE highlights three industries with higher incidence than this average: education (2.7%), human health and social work (3.3%) and public administration/defence (3.4%). These industries typically come with higher stress levels, time pressure, and difficult targets to meet, all of which can contribute to mental health issues.

The report acknowledges that the coronavirus pandemic became a significant contributing factor in the findings. However, it is vital to remember that prior to the pandemic, the trend of self-reported work-related stress, depression, or anxiety was gradually rising. That trend has not stopped, as present levels are higher than the 2018-2019 levels.

Liz Goodwill, Head of the Mental Health Policy team at HSE reminds employers of their legal responsibilities to prevent and address work-related stress at work: ‘Psychosocial risks should be treated the same as physical ones’.

While work can be rewarding, good for self-esteem and for feeling generally positive about ourselves, it can have a detrimental impact on employees and their mental wellbeing. Businesses need to keep mental health and wellbeing at front of mind, not just during difficult projects, but all year round.

What businesses can do to protect the mental health of their staff

Create a culture of transparency

While much has been done to increase awareness of mental health issues over the last decade, it can still be something of an invisible problem in the workplace. All this does is reinforce and perpetuate stigma, and create conditions for existing mental health issues to get worse.

The easiest way to start breaking down barriers is to get people talking. This can start with managers who feel confident enough to speak about their own mental health difficulties at work. If no one ever admits to feeing stressed, anxious, or worried about their performance, it can create a tremendous pressure across the entire team.

Creating a culture where team members feel able to be open and honest about what they’re feeling allows these fears to be vented, which can bring the team closer together.

Encourage interpersonal relationships between staff

When we feel lonely or isolated, our mental health suffers. When teammates feel connected to each other, they are more motivated, better supported, and more resilient.

Hosting team-building days is one thing, but also having more social events where people can get together and speak about things besides work can really help to bring people together.

Provide mental health first aid training for all staff

Every workplace takes precautions against employee mental health deteriorating, but sometimes mental health first aid will be necessary. Training staff in mental health first aid can defuse a mental health crisis, help keep staff safe, and spot warning signs before they get worse.

Dean Russell, MP for Watford, is continuing with efforts to introduce a Private Member’s Bill in Parliament to legislate for mental health first aid to become a legal part of workplace first aid training. The bill’s second reading is Friday 24th February.

Legislation like this would continue to highlight and help to improve awareness of mental health at work, as well as increasing the safety measures that would be able to protect workers who deal with poor mental health. 

Read more about burnout and how to prevent it, or learn about how loneliness at work impacts mental health.

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Posted on: 20th February 2023