Addressing mental health and wellbeing in the workplace

At the recent Scaffolding Association AGM, Joscelyne Shaw, Executive Director of the charity, began her presentation on Mates in Mind’s work with a shocking statistic – that with every suicide, up to 135 other lives may be impacted.

Talking about mental health and talking about employers being responsible for mental health and wellbeing is still an issue that some don’t believe should be dealt with at work. And though only a few may challenge this discussion openly given the groundswell, it is important to recognize that not everyone is convinced that this is something that it’s an employer’s responsibility directly. I think this is worth unpacking.

This is why Mates in Mind is so important – we are looking to create the clarity as well as confidence for employers to understand what it is that they need to be thinking about when looking to address mental health. We are not expecting everyone to be experts in occupational health, psychology or even psychiatry. But ignorance of what may be legal duties is not enough.

Employers’ legal obligation

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999), as an organisation, employers have a legal obligation to protect their employees from stress at work by undertaking a risk assessment and acting upon on it. This applies not only on an organisational level, but also at a departmental/divisional and employee level.

What’s more, we would argue that there is a strong moral as well as clear business case to be addressing this issue.

Findings from recent reports have shown that it is evident, mental ill-health is a widespread issue costing UK businesses significant tangible amounts every year.

Statistics highlight the impact

According to the Health and Safety Executive, forty-four per cent of work-related ill health cases were attributed to stress, depression or anxiety, which amounted to 15.4 million working days lost in 2017/18. The British Safety Council report Not Just Free Fruit, released in 2018, found that “…the most noteworthy and worrying factor is the ongoing rise of mental health issues, including stress, depression, anxiety and other psychological and psychiatric disorders. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports an increase in the proportion of younger workers aged 25 to 34, who attribute their sickness absence to mental health conditions, rising from 7.2% in 2009 to 9.6% in 2017.”

Further evidence as to the impact was provided in the Centre for Mental Health report published in 2017 that estimated the overall cost of not addressing mental health problems to UK employers to almost £35 billion, or £1,300 per employee. For a business considering their bottom line, regardless of size, this can quickly add up.

Where do we start to help?

There are practical ways in which employers can help colleagues within the working environment. A starting point is that workers need to acknowledge and look after their own mental health. Increasing awareness and understanding is a key first step in a journey towards a culture of prevention.

Importantly running alongside this is the sense too that managers should not be fearful of broaching the subject. If the culture is to change in a workplace, managers need much more information and guidance on how to spot the signs of illness. This guidance needs to help them to initiate a conversation with a worker and the tools to continue the conversation in an appropriate way moving forward.

We can all make a difference

It’s tragic enough that someone may have reached that point that they take their life. Looking at the faces in the room at the AGM, it was evident again for me as to what is being done is so important, and there is a role for everyone across the industry to do their part – whether to prevent the repeat of an experience for someone they are working with, or as a legacy of someone they once knew.