The most important asset of a business is its workforce. Happy, healthy and productive people are a determinant factor in the success of any business. People perform better when they feel able to put energy into their job; they are motivated, confident and focused. Good mental health enables this and a company that positively supports and promotes their employees’ mental wellbeing will witness an increase in their staff’s performance and productivity. On the contrary, a business dismissing their employees’ wellbeing is putting its own success at high risk.
A common assumption is that mental health problems are just caused by home issues, so some employers feel it is not appropriate or it is not their responsibility to intervene and support staff. In fact, in most cases people’s mental health problems are a combination of problems they face at work and outside work. For example, someone who is experiencing severe anxiety due to financial problems might find that the amount of work he is under in the workplace, which would usually be manageable, is now completely overwhelming. On the contrary, someone who is under a lot of stress at work, working very long hours might develop coping mechanisms at home such as drinking which can impact very negatively on his family relationships and his social life. It is all interconnected, there are various factors triggering poor mental health and it is sometimes hard to separate work related causes and non work related causes.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s most recent research about mental health in the workplace was carried out 2011 on 2000 employees. 26% of them responded that they experienced mental health problems whilst in employment. 65% of them said that their poor mental health was the result of a combination of problems at work and outside work in their personal life. It is therefore in the employers’ interest to consider their employees holistically, and support their mental wellbeing regardless of the cause or the trigger.
Mental health problems can be triggered or made worse by stress and the impact on the workplace is undeniable. A certain level of stress is desirable in business as it encourages people to achieve or perform better and it can boost their motivation and their productivity. As individuals, we all have different thresholds in terms of resilience to stress. For some people, the level of stress can become too high and at some stage become unmanageable stress, resulting in negative effects on the person’s physical and mental wellbeing. Stress has a 3D effect on people:
On a physiological level, it can lead to: digestive problems, muscular tension, quickened heart beat and breathing, allergies, fatigue, sleep problems…
On a psychological level, the person can witness the onset of: negative thoughts, anxiety, boredom, loss of motivation and focus, slow reactivity, bad memory…
On an emotional level, stress can translate into: impatience, temper, aggression, restlessness…
If these symptoms are not addressed, stress can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks. Chronic fatigue syndrome, and sleep problems can also develop. Burnout is also a very high risk and it takes a long time for someone to recover from burnout and be fit for work again. Managing stress effectively is therefore a crucial part of a preventative approach to supporting mental health in the workplace. Employers have a duty of care towards their employees and are encouraged to take action to maintain balance.
Work related stress and mental health problems are very costly to a business and indisputably affect the health of the organisation. Mental health and stress are the second biggest cause of absence after musculo-skeletal conditions. A few figures on mental ill health and stress on the workplace help gain a better understanding of their impact on the business:
- One in six workers experiences depression, anxiety or unmanageable stress at any one time.
- Unless addressed at an early stage, absence due to mental health problems can often be long term, with the average spell of absence for a mental health condition lasting 21 days, rising to 30 days for depression.
- An estimated 10.4 million working days were lost in total due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety (Health and Safety Executive statistics 2011/12).
- The cost to business of mental ill health is not just related to absence, because most people with mental health problems remain at work (53% according to CIPD research). The annual cost of mental health-related presenteeism (people coming to work and underperforming due to ill health) estimated at £15.1 billion or £605 per employee in the UK.
- Poor mental health affects staff’s performance. Looking at the CIPD’s research on the topic of mental health, 26% of the people taking part responded that they experienced mental health problems whilst in employment:
- Out of these people, 80% said they found it very hard to focus their attention whilst at work.
- 40% admitted struggling with multi-tasking
- 40% said they put off challenges
- 50% said it affected their patience with work colleagues and clients sometimes leading to conflict
- 60% said it affected their ability to make decisions and
- 37% admitted that it was very difficult to learn new tasks
These numbers draw a dramatic and dark picture of a situation that your organisation may be experiencing. The good news is, there are a great number of actions a business can take to reduce stigma about mental health in the workplace and help their staff feel better and healthier and the Workplace Wellbeing and Stress Summit on 27th Nov in London is a yearly conference that enables companies to explore these options. If you care about your workforce and are on a mission to nurture your staff mental health and wellbeing, this is an event not to be missed.
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