Employers must take their responsibilities towards employee mental health more seriously

supporting employee mental health better

Today I am returning to the vital issue of mental health at work. Not only because this is an essential responsibility for employers, but also in response to the recently-released Business in the Community (BiTC) Mental Health at Work 2019 Report. Last year, I described the findings as worrying. This year, I am dismayed – because not nearly enough has changed.

While excellent work has increased awareness of this important employee health issue, I am dismayed to read this headline from this year’s report. In the last year, 2 in 5 employees have experienced poor mental health symptoms due to their work, or where work was a contributing factor.

Employers are still failing to support employee mental health effectively

Key findings from the report include:

  • 62% of managers have had to put the interests of their organisation above staff wellbeing either sometimes, regularly or every day.
  • 41% of employees experiencing a mental health problem reported that there had been no resulting changes or actions taken in the workplace
  • 52% of those who experience mental health problems related to work say this is due to pressure such as too many priorities or targets.
  • 36% of employees mentioned workload as causing poor mental health symptoms
  • 9% of those who disclosed a mental health problem were dismissed, demoted or disciplined
  • Only 11% of managers in the UK have received training on understanding workplace stressors

These statistics are shocking. Employers and workplace culture have real impacts on employee mental health, and currently, employers are not taking their responsibilities seriously enough.

Work is a serious risk factor for employee mental health

We all have mental health, and no one is immune from experiencing bad times. When training many years ago, I was taught to consider the physical analogy of holding a tea tray, with other people piling things onto it. However strong you are, or think you are, eventually the tea tray will become too heavy – and you drop it, ending up in a mess.

In real life, many risk factors add to a mental ‘pile’ for employees. These may include home or social factors or other illnesses such as chronic or long term health conditions.

Significant worries can be caused by work. Pressures can include high demands, lack of control over work, adversarial relationships in the workplace, or poor workplace design. The workplace has significant effects on mental health, yet employers often find managing mental health at work difficult. Employers often fail to not just to understand the stressors at work, but to recognise how positively supporting employee mental health is a ‘win-win’ for both staff and business.

How can employers manage employee mental health in the workplace?

Employers can transform the way people feel about their work and workplace – if they make an effort.

I was privileged to join the panel at the launch event to help publicise this year’s survey and BiTCs response. I strongly support the conclusions BiTC call for in the Mental Health at Work 2019 Report including:

  • Employers need to stop harming the mental health of their employees through poor business practices and culture
  • Employers must acknowledge and support employees experiencing poor mental health, whatever the cause
  • Employers can and should create good work that enhances mental health

These words may be easy to write – but clearly, they are harder to implement. I fully support the report’s call to action – it’s time for employers to take ownership of employee mental health.

Supporting line managers to take simple steps at the right time for better employee mental health

I moved out of traditional occupational health practice a few years ago to concentrate on work with Empactis, a software solution that is designed to help managers do the right thing at the right time.

Line managers are often fearful of asking about issues that may be piling up for employees, wrongly thinking that employee mental health problems aren’t their concern, or even worrying about beginning discussions that they worry could be too difficult.

But line managers don’t need to be psychologists or psychiatrists, they just need to take simple steps. Just a few timely, well considered, and empathic words of support can transform how employees feel in and about their work.

We’ve learned from our work in Empactis that simple actions make a significant difference. For employers, showing you care, signposting your colleague to a source of help or even just supporting them to recognise that they will be supported in reducing their mental load – does and will make a difference.

Our platform is designed to help identify situations in which this may be helpful and to link managers and their staff to the many sources of help. For employee mental health at work, this impact can be significant.

It’s essential that we all act to create healthy workplaces. We shouldn’t simply stay shocked when reports like today’s Mental Health at Work 2019 Report highlight shocking workplace health issues; we should use them to act. Steps to improve employee mental health are simple, but they must be acted upon by employers.