Labour has called for all major Government policies to “undergo a mental health impact assessment”, as new research reveals that one if three people have experienced mental health issues while in employment.
A survey of 2,000 workers, by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), found that 31% have experienced some form of mental health problem during their working life, up from 26% in 2011. Four in ten of these had experienced a mental health issue in the last 12 months, to an extent that had affected their health and wellbeing.
Despite the increase, the majority of workers believe employers do not provide enough support to employees with mental health issues. The research found that employers are taking a reactive approach to employees’ mental health issues, when preventative steps would make better business sense.
However, less than half (44%) say they would feel confident enough to talk their employer about their mental health issue, up from 41% five years ago.
Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “Employers cannot afford to ignore people’s mental health in the workplace, which is why we need robust frameworks to ensure early intervention and more support to keep employees in work.
“We should consider ensuring that major government policies undergo a mental health impact assessment so that the nation’s mental health needs are reflected in policy making across all government departments, as advocated in a report about Mental Health in Society, published earlier this year.
“However, the Tories continue to ignore advice about assessing the effect their policies might have on the mental health of the population.
“We need better occupational health support for more small businesses which should promote early intervention and make employees aware of the help available locally.
“The Government should work with organisations like the CBI, the FSB and trade unions to promote the role of good employers in improving and maintaining the workforce’s mental health.
“A workforce that feels supported and valued will be more motivated and productive at work.”
Less than half of the respondents to the survey (46%) said employers had supported them through their mental problem either ‘very’ or ‘fairly well’. CIPD say that whilst this is an improvement on 2011 figures, when only 37% said employers had supported them ‘very’ or ‘fairly well’, there remains much more employers could do to support employees with mental health issues.
On the type of support offered by businesses, the survey found:
- Phased return to work (32% of employees),
- Access to flexible working arrangements (30%),
- Access to occupational health services (27%)
- Access to counselling services (27%)
Only 3% of respondents said they were supported by mental health first aiders, 5% mental health champions. Worryingly, only 10% said line managers had received training in managing and supporting people with mental health problems.
Rachel Suff, Employment Relations Adviser at the CIPD, said: “With people’s experiences of mental health problems at work on the increase, it’s disappointing not to see more employers stepping up to address them.
“Mental health should get just as much attention, awareness and understanding as physical health, and employers have a responsibility to manage stress and mental health at work, making sure employees are aware of, and able to access, the support available to them.
‘This agenda needs to be championed from the very top by business leaders and senior staff – either through role-modelling or open conversations about their own experiences. There’s also a clear role for HR professionals and line managers to ensure that employees are getting the support they need and feel they can speak up.
“It’s crucial that organisations work to promote an open and inclusive culture so that employees feel confident about disclosing mental health issues and discussing the challenges they are experiencing.
“Promoting good mental health also makes good business sense, as employees are likely to be more engaged and productive if they work for an organisation with a workforce wellbeing strategy that emphasises the importance of both good mental and physical health”.
Rachel Suff added: “We’re seeing a distinct trend of reactive measures when it comes to how employers support people with mental health issues. These are very important, but we also need to see more preventative steps to promote good mental wellbeing.
“Where possible, employees with mental health problems should be able to access support before problems escalate to a point where they struggle to manage work and their illness, and need to take time out of work.
“Of course, there will be occasions where people experiencing a mental health problem will need to take time off work and then it’s important that the right framework, including occupational health services and phased return to work, is in place to support them in that situation.
“It’s particularly disappointing to see such a low level of training by employers for line managers in how to manage and support people with mental health problems. Line managers play such a crucial role in an employee’s experience of work, and are often the first line of defence in terms of spotting problems and supporting individuals should they ask for help. Therefore, their management style, the relationships they have with staff, and their ability to implement policies are all paramount to how supported people feel at work.
“A lot of it is simply about employees feeling that their line manager cares and will support them if they say ‘”I need to talk”.
“However, line managers are not counsellors and will need training themselves if they are to feel confident and competent to create this ‘open’ culture and support and manage employees with mental health issues. This should be the starting point for employers”.
Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing, at mental health charity Mind, said: “It’s clear that there’s a high prevalence of mental health problems among employees.
“It’s good to see more people feeling comfortable enough to let their workplace know when they’re struggling with their mental health, which is likely to be an indication that employers are fostering an open culture where staff feel able to disclose their problems.
“However, it’s vital that employers also have good support in place for all staff, including those experiencing unmanageable stress or poor mental health. Employees need to be reassured that if they do put their hands up, they’ll be met with understanding, and additional support if necessary.
“Creating mentally healthy workplaces needn’t be difficult or expensive, often it’s about putting in place small adjustments, such as regular communication and flexible working hours.
“Being able to identify and support a colleague struggling with poor mental health can also make a big difference, which is why Mind delivers mental health awareness training to line managers.
“We’re also launching a Workplace Wellbeing Index – a benchmark of best policy and practice which will enable employers to recognise the good work they’re doing when it comes to promoting good mental health at work, as well as highlighting areas for improvement”.