Given that only a quarter of employees experiencing mental health problems would discuss it with their managers, it’s clear this is still a taboo topic in the workplace.
In the UK, a staggering 15.8 million working days are lost every year to mental health problems – including stress, depression, anxiety and serious conditions – according to the Office for National Statistics. That’s 11.5% of all sick days taken in the UK in 2016.
In reality, I’d imagine this figure is actually much higher, but the stigma around mental illness prevents employees from reporting the real reason for their absences.
As an employer, I’ve never yet had an email from a staff member to say they are off work today because anxiety is crippling them, or because depression won’t let them leave the house.
Yet a 2015 survey of UK adults by YouGov and Virgin revealed 51% had experienced anxiety or burnout in their current job.
Mental health charity Mind surveyed 15,000 employees from 30 organisations in its Workplace Wellbeing Index in 2016-17. It found that less than half (49%) feel their employer supports their mental health and only 41% feel their organisation encourages openness and discussions about mental health.
The stats are painting a bleak picture of a massive communication breakdown.
If I was to ask you what your company policy on mental health is, and when it was last reviewed, would you be able to answer?
The fight to make the workplace better for those battling with mental health issues starts by letting your professional guard down. Would you be willing to share your own experiences in both one-on-one and group scenarios? And, if you can’t, why would you expect an employee to be able to? This is a conversation, not a monologue.
To destigmatise mental health issues across your business, get the whole senior team behind you and appoint one person to take the lead. This person will be responsible for leading the policy making, its deployment, internal communications, and reporting. They will also make sure your policy on mental health functions within the existing legal frameworks.
Assign a budget to workplace wellbeing. Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing survey reported that only a third of participating organisations surveyed declared how much of their annual operating budget was set aside for workplace wellbeing. Large organisations said they allocated an average of 11% whilst SMBs set aside less than 0.5%. Yet it has been widely reported that businesses who invest in wellbeing see a return in the form of reduced absences, improved retention and better productivity.
Of course, you can also make swift changes to your culture that will make a big difference. Start by encouraging staff to work sensible hours. If this isn’t happening, sit down with them and work out why they are consistently working overtime. It might be you are understaffed and their workload is out of control, or they aren’t working productively.
Similarly, encourage a lunch break culture by taking one yourself, and never send employees emails at the weekend. Even if you don’t get a reply, I assure you they will be reading them and possibly worrying about them, too.