For the UK workforce, the challenge of mental health at work is significant.
There is an ongoing stigma that prevents an open discussion on the topic. And with more people working longer hours, uncertainty in job security and a lack of understanding about mental health, this a problem which has repercussions for both employers and employees.
According to a report by Deloitte, poor mental health among employees is estimated to cost UK employers between £42 billion-£45 billion each year. The findings also suggest that employees in the UK are taking fewer sick days with increasing presenteeism, where staff come to work when they shouldn’t. Companies are suffering due to burnt-out employees who find it difficult to switch off from their work, which hinders their productivity.
In addition to the clear financial impact to organisations, poor mental health can also have consequences for the individuals affected. Employees tend to perceive that having a mental health condition could hamper their progression according to the Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers. These difficulties can also affect a person at home as well as at work, states the report.
Making mental health a priority to companies
The case for raising mental health awareness in the workplace is profound. Today, as mental health stigma is reducing, more and more organisations are accepting the importance of it. IGHI PhD researcher, Sarah P. Jones has been designing a solution to ensure companies do this in the most effective way.
Despite the existence of some mental health interventions in companies, Jones suggests that not enough is being done: “Many companies lack the expertise to choose mental health programmes or digital interventions such as mental health mobile apps and online support, which demonstrate clear evidence of positive impact. For many companies, even mental health awareness training still falls under the same training budgets as professional development, which doesn’t make sense,” says Jones.
“There is no health without mental health. With the global pandemic putting unprecedented strain on employees, it is vital now more than ever to invest in evidence-based methods to support workforce mental health.”
Jones believes that mental health awareness is a necessity for workplace leaders: “If you want to be an effective leader, you must learn to navigate the workplace using these skills. Being mental health literate is part of what I call The New Professionalism, along with more traditional leadership skills needed in the workplace.”
Her answer to bettering mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is a training programme called Mental Health Intelligence.
Jones’ platform focusses on providing the corporate sector a programme to shift attitudes and increase knowledge in mental wellbeing: “Mental health awareness training may ultimately encourage people’s help-seeking behaviour. So when, and if, they need support, they’ll feel more encouraged to access it.”
To shape the platform and content, Jones conducted focus groups with corporate sector employees. “Together with the groups, I wanted to make sure that the programme was easy to use, intuitive, and had the correct ‘look and feel,’” says Jones.
A vital principle of Mental Health Intelligence was ensuring it used content that would deliver Jones’ aim of improving attitudes: “Mental Health Intelligence covers facts and evidence about common mental health problems, the science behind self-care, such as mindfulness and meditation, and skills for starting and maintaining conversation in the workplace about mental health.”
Jones also wanted to ensure that the programme could be adapted to a company’s needs: “One of the unique features of Mental Health Intelligence is that it is customisable to companies’ own offerings, such as employee assistance programmes, health insurance coverage and free mental health apps offered to employees.”
The programme will be conducted with a mixture of sessions led by Jones, group work and independent learning. In the future participants will be able to take the training at their own pace.
Helpful for everyone
As awareness of mental health has increased in society, companies are demonstrating an openness to investing in these issues in the workplace .
There are clear benefits for employers who train their staff. Jones refers to a finding in Deloitte’s report, which estimated that for every £1 invested in employees through a workplace mental health intervention, employers received up to £10 back.
Despite this, corporations have expressed concerns about using a training programme: “The challenges tend to be the same among all companies, with concerns about cost of the programme, evidence of effectiveness, anonymity and safety of data,” says Jones, who has been mindful of addressing these matters in her training programme.
Training in action
Jones is currently recruiting company employees to take part in her Mental Health Intelligence training programme, after which the trial will begin. This will be an opportunity to see what works well, and what can be improved.
Looking ahead, Jones hopes her programme will teach companies long-lasting skills that can improve workplace culture: “After completing the training, I hope employees will feel comfortable with speaking to each other about mental health, and people are at ease with supporting each other too. We are all in this together.”