This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, an opportunity for employers to take steps to tackle the work-related causes of stress in its organisation and encourage staff to seek help at the earliest opportunity.


According to a report from the Mental Health Foundation in 2016, the value added to the economy by people who are at work and have or have had mental health problems is as high as £225 billion per year, which represents 12.1% of the UK’s total GDP.


11 million days lost a year

According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) over 11 million days are lost at work a year because of stress at work and in 2015/16 over 480,000 people in the UK reported that work-related stress was making them ill. This amounts to nearly 40% of all work-related illness.


Stigma still remains

Acas talks about the reluctance many employees have to talk about stress at work. Despite what statistics show there is still a stigma attached to stress and people still think they will be seen as weak if they admit they are struggling.


Mental health is no longer the taboo subject it once was and can affect anyone at any level of an organisation. It is therefore important that an employer takes steps to tackle the work-related causes of stress in its organisation and encourages staff to seek help at the earliest opportunity if they begin to experience stress.


The report from the Mental Health Foundation shows that the value added by people with mental health problems in the workforce is greater than the costs arising and that improving and protecting mental health secures that value and should help reduce cost. Key findings from the report include:


Work is a key factor in supporting and protecting mental health

The survey identified that 86% of all respondents believed that their job and being at work was important to protecting and maintaining their mental health.


Distress is an issue that affects a major proportion of the workforce…

…whether people have experienced a mental health problem or not. Most survey respondents who had experienced a mental health problem, and over a third of respondents who had not, reported that distress had left them less productive than they would like.


Disclosure can be a positive experience…

…but discrimination and self-stigma remain big issues. A majority of respondents to the survey who disclosed a mental health problem to an employer described it as an overall positive experience and were more aware of the support available to them than those who had not. However, the negative experience of a significant minority in part legitimises the fears of those who have chosen not to disclose.


Many employers lack systems to recognise and address mental health at work

The survey findings suggest that many employers lack systems to recognise and address mental health at work, especially in relation to absence management and making adjustments.


Key recommendations from the report include:


  • Value mental health and wellbeing as core business assets.
  • Support the development of compassionate and effective line management relationships.
  • Address discrimination and support disclosure.
  • Value the diversity and transferable skills that the lived experience of mental health problems brings


Risk assessments

The employer benefits are not the only reason to address work-related stress as an employer has a legal obligation to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees. As part of this, an employer must conduct risk assessments for work-related stress, as laid out by the HSE, and take actions to prevent staff from experiencing a stress-related illness because of their work.


Employers who have fewer than five employees do not have to write anything down, however it may be useful to do so in case circumstances change and the information can be reviewed later.


Employers with five or more employees are required by law to write the risk assessment down.


Employee actions

It isn’t just the responsibility of the employer, there are many actions employees can take to reduce work-related stress, including:


  • Reaching out – simply sharing the stress by talking about it to someone
  • Support your health with exercise and nutrition – simple steps to increase energy and lift mood
  • Quality sleep – don’t skimp on sleep as the better rested you are, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle your job responsibilities and cope with workplace stress.


What priority does your business give to supporting work-related stress?

The CIPP ran a quick poll at the beginning of the year asking what priority level your business, or the business you work for, gives to supporting work-related stress. Of the 453 responses we received there was a pretty even split over the answers given.


22% stated that their business gives no priority to supporting work-related stress and 25% said it gives low priority. With this accounting for almost half of respondents, employees certainly need to be taking action themselves. However, on a more positive note the highest number of respondents (27%) said that their business gives medium priority to supporting work-related stress and following close behind, 26% of businesses give high priority.


It is encouraging to see that there are many businesses out there appreciating the benefit of supporting work-related stress but given the number of lost working days, there is certainly more for us all to do.


Talking Toolkit

Download the Talking Toolkit from the HSE to start a conversation with your workers and help prevent work-related stress in your organisation.

Source: The Chartered Institute for Payroll Professionals (CIPP)

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