Mental Health in the Workplace - Moral Imperative or Good Business Sense?

I’m often invited to address the business community at various events on the subject of mental health. The business community is used to being addressed on the perennial subjects of how to make your business more efficient, how to improve your bottom line and the like. So for many, mental health is not an obvious topic in this context. Don’t get me wrong, there are many leaders out there who are aware of the need for businesses to think about wellbeing, to look after their staff and to raise awareness of mental health and many are already engaged in excellent initiatives to do just that. They believe it’s the right thing to do. However, there will always be a few in the room who understandably have concerns about cost considerations when it comes to improving mental health awareness in the workplace.

Research by the mental health charity, MIND, confirms that a culture of fear and silence around mental health is costly to employers. In their survey, when asked how workplace stress had affected them 21% of respondents said that they had called in sick to avoid work, 14% said that they had resigned and 42% had considered resigning. The costs of lost working days, losing trained staff and of subsequent recruitment of replacement staff can weigh heavily on the employer.

Presenteeism, where people come to work despite suffering mental or physical ill health, is also on the rise. In its recent annual Health and Well-Being at Work Survey Report the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said more than four-fifths (83%) of its respondents had observed presenteeism in their organisation, and a quarter (25%) said the problem had got worse since the previous year.

Health insurer, Vitality, has conducted research into the problem and believes it to be a key part of explaining the UK’s productivity puzzle. Vitality's chief executive Neville Koopowitz said, ”Workplace stress and mental wellbeing has a massive impact. We believe presenteeism is the key issue to Britain's productivity problem, where people are at work and not performing in an optimal way,”.

As part of the independent review into workplace mental health, commissioned by the government in 2017 Prime Minister in January 2017, analysis was commissioned by Deloitte to quantify the economic costs of poor mental health. The results make interesting reading: poor mental health costs the UK economy between £74 billion and £99 billion a year. Deloitte’s analysis shows that the cost to employers is between £33 billion and £42 billion. Deloitte’s analysis also quantifies how investing in supporting mental health at work is good for business and productivity with workplace interventions showing a return to business of between £1.50 and £9 for every £1 invested.

Common sense tells us that people do their best work when they are happy, healthy and engaged and now we have the figures to back it up. Looking after the mental health of your employees is not just “the right thing to do”, it’s now proved that it does make your business more efficient and improves your bottom line.