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Workplace Wellbeing: Mental Health in the Workplace

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We kicked off our four-part series on workplace wellbeing last week. In this part, we’ll be discussing the importance of mental wellbeing, and the effects that poor workplace mental health can have on a range of behaviours including employee engagement and productivity.

How common are issues with mental health in the workplace?

According to the Centre for Mental Health, mental health problems costs the UK economy just shy of £35 billion a year. But the true cost of poor mental health isn’t just financial, as in 2018, there were 6,507 registered suicides in the UK. This increase of almost 12%  since 2017 highlights the seriousness of the mental health epidemic, especially since it is the first increase such since 2013. Even when problems with mental health don’t make someone a danger to themselves, the prolonged effects of depression include shrinkage of specific regions of the brain, which can impede memory and make it difficult to think clearly. The stress of long-term depression can also damage physical health via symptoms such as stomach ulcers and a weakened immune system.

The 2019 CIPD “Health and Well-being at Work” survey found that, in comparison to previous years, mental health is becoming an increasingly significant cause of both short and long-term sickness absence. Three fifths of respondents report an increase of common mental health issues (e.g. depression or anxiety) in employees over the last twelve months. Less than a tenth of businesses have a standalone mental health policy. However, most businesses are taking some action to address employee mental health, and a third of companies have incorporated it into other policies, while one in five are in the process of developing a policy around mental health.

But at the moment, less than half of organisations provide mental health training for managers. While this has improved slightly from the previous year, respondents are still more likely to disagree than agree that their manager has the skills to support the mental health of their employees.

When struggling with mental health issues at work, employees can often feel pressured to conceal their difficulties.

We should not underestimate the role played by stress, either. Almost two fifths of respondents reported an increase in stress-related absence since last year, with only 8% of businesses reporting a decrease. The most common reason has often been heavy workload. The same is true for the 2019 survey, with the addition that an increasing number of respondents are blaming poor management styles.

How can businesses improve workplace mental health?

The legal sector is arguably one of the most demanding in the UK. Lawcare is a support organisation for legal professionals that runs an advice hotline. In 2019, the number of people using their service was up 8% compared to the previous year.  According to Lawcare, the most frequently cited reason was stress (26%) followed by depression (12%).

In response, Karen Baxter, a partner and board member at Lewis Silkin, spearheaded an initiative to improve her firm’s mental health policies. They realised that lawyers with between five and fifteen years of experience had the highest level of poor wellbeing. It was also more difficult to get senior partners or lawyers to attend counselling. As a result, Karen personally led the firm’s “ThisPlaceMinds” campaign over the course of a week. ‘It had a principal objective of ensuring we have a culture where anyone can share their mental health concerns, safely in the knowledge that they will be met with support and understanding,’ she said. Karen also instituted the Guardians programme. A Guardian is a voluntary member of staff who, once properly trained, provides support and a confidential ear to any employee who wants to raise an issue but isn’t sure how. 

Workplace stress and mental health are heavily intertwined.

When discussing the importance of mental health in the workplace, Karen had this to say:  ‘In the legal profession, we sell our minds. If a law firm does not look after the minds of its partners and staff, it is like owning a book shop and leaving the books out in the rain. The human cost to the affected individuals is clear, but there are further emotional and financial costs, including increased pressure on colleagues and reduced efficiency and productivity. Accessing the right support or treatment at the right time can significantly improve the return to work experience for both the individual and their team.’

When asked what first steps could be taken to improve workplace mental health, Karen said, ‘Many of us are juggling family and work life – so consider if you can offer flexible working or other solutions to ease this burden. Also, be aware of presenteeism, or the perception that you must work additional hours.’ 

But whether you’re part of a law firm or not, it’s vital to maintain good mental wellbeing at work. Mental health problems have rapidly become one of the defining issues of our time. Many workplaces still hold onto a burnout culture that does not prioritise an employee’s mental wellbeing. The first step in dealing with this is to provide staff with the means to communicate and raise issues confidentially. On top of enabling employers to tackle issues, giving employees a means to express their feelings could also directly benefit their mental health. Research also suggests that journaling can be used as a form of stress relief by helping get maladaptive thoughts out of your head where they exist in a vacuum.

To learn more about how Weekly10’s check-in system and other features can facilitate effective, confidential communication for your employees to express themselves in, why not look at our demo options today?

Interested in learning how Weekly10’s habit-forming employee check-in can help keep wellbeing at the forefront of all you do?

Research Associate