The World Health Organisation predicts that depression will be the world’s most common illness by 2030 and suggests that the global burden of the condition will be greater than for diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Fortunately, as a society, we are now recognising the risk to people welfare of not addressing and improving mental health, as well as the benefits associated with doing so and the need to take proactive steps.
Organisations are also beginning to recognise the risk to the welfare of their people and the sustainability of their business, if they do not take proactive steps to improve working conditions in order to prevent mental ill-health
Whilst employers are not required by law to address and improve mental health in their organisation specifically, health and safety law dictates that they do have a legal responsibility to protect the health and safety of their people. This includes their mental health and safety. They are also legally obliged to take certain steps if the legal definition of disability is met.
Aside from the need to comply with the law, there are many direct benefits for employers associated with successfully managing the amount of stress that employees experience, all of which, impact positively on energy, effort and financial expenditure.
First let’s look at how the ways in which poor mental health can display itself and negatively impact an organisation:
While sickness absence overall has fallen by 15%-20% since 2009, absence due to mental ill-health in this period has risen by around 5%. Mental ill-health remains one of the greatest causes of sickness absence in the UK and people with a mental health condition are three times more likely to have a long-term period of sickness.There are costs associated with recruitment and training of new employees when someone is absent from work for long periods due to mental ill-health.
Whilst the percentage of days off due to any type of illness is around 25% lower than a decade ago, various studies suggest that presenteeism is increasing year on year.Presenteeism is defined as ‘showing up to work, despite being unwell, failing to be productive, and sometimes making a condition worse’ and it is most common in organisations where operational demands are prioritised over people wellbeing and where deadlines are demanding and working long hours is the norm.
- WORKFORCE STRAIN
If mental health issues are left un-managed e.g. if someone isn’t supported with the right adjustments to stay in work, the knock-on effect on other members of the team can be increased workload and hours, putting their mental wellbeing at risk.Equally, there are costs associated with recruitment and training of new employees when someone is off sick from work or leaves the organisation due to mental ill-health.
- EMPLOYEE TURNOVERMental ill-health does not equate to poor performance and some of the statistics suggest that employers are losing a lot of talented workers due to a failure to effectively manage mental health.If a person feels unable to cope, or unable to continue at the organisation due to mental ill-health, there are costs associated with recruitment and training of new employees
- LIMITED GROWTH
35% of people in organisations believe that they would be less likely to get promoted if they had depression and this belief is reflected in the fact that across all businesses, there are still very few managers, directors and senior officials declaring a long-term mental health condition.This results in culture of concealment and presenteeism and potentially a loss of diversity and skills throughout organisations, limiting growth.
- LEGAL RISKWhen employees go on sickness absence leave due to stress, particularly in the face of disciplinary or absence management proceedings, where the organisation have failed to understand an individual’s particular personal and medical situation, employers could be exposed to various claims.
Also, where organisations fail to have and follow policies and processes that enable them to comply with both health and safety and disability law, employees may consider resigning and claiming unfair dismissal if they can demonstrate a breach. This impacts productivity and financial stability
When we consider this impact on organisations of mental ill-health, it is easy to see that there are many direct benefits for employers associated with successfully managing the amount of stress that employees experience, all of which, impact positively on energy, effort and financial expenditure.
The benefits to employers
- Reduced likelihood of legal claims
- Fewer days lost to absenteeism
- Lower staff turnover
- Reduced recruitment and training costs
- Improved employee morale
- Reduced conflict and other people issues
- Positive PR and better company reputation, resulting in increased desirability for talented people
- Decreased presenteeism and improved creativity, innovation and productivity
- Higher customer acquisition and retention
- Increases profits
In summary, to avoid the detrimental impact of mental ill-health on both employees and organisations, it is advisable for employers to take proactive action to prevent mental health issues occurring, as well as providing support when they do.
The reward for getting this right is a happier, healthier workforce, and a more successful, high-performing organisation as well as the wider impact of reducing the social and economic costs of mental ill-health to society.