Insurance · 20 May 2016

Are you harming your employees’ mental health without realising it?

Mental Health Awareness Week
Mental health problems are estimated to cost British firms £26bn each year due to sickness and absence

Almost 40 per cent of British workers think their workplace environment has a damaging impact on emotional wellbeing, according to a new study carried out by insurer Westfield Health to mark Mental Health Awareness Week.

Half of those surveyed said their employer falls short when it comes to managing mental health issues in the workplace – and the same proportion have felt unable to take time off work despite suffering from mental illness.

“The findings show that when it comes to managing mental health in the workplace, employers face a much bigger problem than first appears,” said Westfield Health’s executive director, Dave Capper.

“Not only are workers reporting that their place of work is impacting negatively on their mental state of mind, but the majority are also calling for employers and employees to share responsibility and to do more to manage mental resilience and mindfulness in the workplace.”

The study also unearthed a significant link between workers’ physical and mental wellbeing, with some 40 per cent of those who had suffered a psychological issue citing a physical ailment as one of the causes.

“These findings lead us to believe employers face a ‘mental health iceberg’, with only a small proportion of mental health problems being recognised and managed, and a much larger proportion of issues remaining hidden below the surface,” continued Copper. “Often the physical illness will be treated and openly talked about, but the mental element may be masked.”

Mental health problems are estimated to cost British firms £26bn each year due to sickness and absence – though academics from the Sainsbury Centre for Mental health argued in 2007 that the impact could be much greater if the cost of employees making it into work but performing poorly were taken into account.

Following a summit on employee wellbeing in 2011, a report by mental health charity Mind drew attention to the challenges small firm leaders face dealing with mental illness in the workplace, arguing: “Due to limited resources, small business owners often find it more difficult to access or provide formal mental health support for employees”.

“To date most government initiatives and other mental health resources for employers have focused on large workplace environments,” the authors continued.

The government-funded Access to Work scheme allows small business owners to claim refunds for 80 per cent of the cost of additional support provided to workers with mental health disabilities.

In a House of Lords debate on mental health in the workplace in 2012, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Thomas argued that micro business owners lacked knowledge about the scheme.

“Many smaller employers, even if they have vaguely heard about the original Access to Work scheme, do not know about its application to mental health problems,” she explained.

“There is a much wider debate to be had about the whole question of health at work, and another about services for those with mental health problems. I hope that the Access to Work scheme will become much better known and prove so successful that it will be able to expand with a much bigger budget in the years ahead,” Thomas added.

Despite the challenges, micro business leaders are well-placed to help mentally ill employees – as this article explains.

Do you have any questions about employee health and wellbeing? Get in touch with our Bupa health expert using the Ask A Question link below.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics – as well as running a tutoring company.

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