Work and Mental Illness | learndirect

Work and Mental Illness

Posted on 18/02/2021
Work and Mental Illness

Around fifteen per cent of people in the workplace show signs of a mental health condition or mental illness. If these individuals are not properly supported the pressures of work can cause their issues to worsen.

The widening discussion around mental health and its impact on the workforce and economy is gradually leading to policy changes within organisations. With one-in-four adults experiencing mental health issues every year, few companies could afford a quarter of their workforce becoming too unwell to work.

Equally, there has been a significant change in employee expectations. Xennials, Millennials and Gen Z care more about company culture and benefits than they do the salary. They are also more likely to quit without another job to go to.

Poor business practices, a toxic working environment and a workforce willing to walk, coupled with legacy issues of ignorance and discrimination has created an environment ideal for deepening mental health issues.

Any company refusing to look after employees will begin to experience high turnover rates and increasing recruitment costs. Not to mention a poor reputation, making it harder to find good people.

By reviewing processes with mental health in mind, companies can easily make improvements. Poor working conditions, inadequate sick pay, minimal holiday entitlement and other aspects that can put a strain on mental wellbeing.

Addressing work and mental illness is a key component in providing appropriate intervention and support for those with mental ill-health. Find out more about the reality of the situation and how you can help below.  

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Identifying the problem of Work and Mental Illness

The current culture of silence in the workplace gives mental health issues the opportunity to spiral out of control. Sickness absence, higher levels of presenteeism and increased staff turnover are just some of the consequences that result.

Considerable progress has been made when it comes to maintaining good mental health in society. However, employers are lagging behind. In 1967, the Whitehall Studies measured how staff at different levels of employment were affected mentally and physically by their work. The study concluded poor treatment of workers leads to an increase in stress-related illnesses.

They found that staff at a higher level had more control of their workload and support in their role. And that those at a lower level succumbed to more illnesses due to job stress. Which included poor skill utilisation, tension and lack of clarity in their tasks.

The study showed that low control in the workplace leads to a higher risk of future coronary heart disease. Which can be reduced by giving employees more variety and influence in how their work is carried out.

It, therefore, demonstrated that the psychosocial work environment could predict rates of sickness absence. And identified that more control and support in the workplace could beneficially affect the health, wellbeing and productivity of employees.

Despite this widely accepted, 50 year old study, many employers offer their employees very little in the way of support or benefits.

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The current state of Poor Mental Health in the Workplace

As it stands, the cost of poor mental health to the economy each year is estimated to be between £74-£99billion. It’s responsible for 72million lost working days which directly costs employers between £33billion and £44billion per year and is now the leading cause of sickness absence. So, choosing to ignore the problems stemming from work and mental health issues is a costly mistake.

Early crisis intervention not only ensures employees get appropriate support, but it reduces absence and loss of valued team members. Crisis intervention, mental health first aid and other skills are so easily gained if management teams receive appropriate training. Courses like mental health first aid and mental health advocacy in the workplace can equip your team with such skills. Allowing you to have trained mental health champions on hand at all times.

Supportive workplaces benefit everyone. If employees are happy and feel valued, they’re likely to remain with a company and take pride in their work. Reducing the costs relating to employee turnover, improving productivity and the bottom line. The money that has been spent on improving mental health so far shows a consistently positive return on investment. Studies suggest that for every £1 invested in workplace mental health employers receive £4 back. So, it’s clearly a worthwhile expense for employers and Governments.

Many people manage their mental health issues effectively alongside their work and daily life, sometimes with treatment and support. But others can experience symptoms and never receive an official diagnosis. Which can make it tricky to identify the individuals who need assistance.

The best thing to do is to create a work environment that is openly supportive of all mental health needs. That way, anyone needing support knows it’s safe to seek help.

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How Company Leadership can Help

It is up to everyone in the workplace to ensure mental health is an openly supported topic. However, leadership and management are essential to promoting positive mental health at work.

Many employees state the way they’re treated by their line manager and general leadership behaviour affects how they feel. This is often linked to company culture and the attitude of leadership towards the management and treatment of staff.

Good leaders take the time to make sure everyone shares the company vision. They discuss changes and decisions openly, so employees feel valued. Including them in the business ‘tribe’ lowers turnover and improves performance.

Management are concerned with the running and organisation of things. So much so, that in some instances they lose sight of the people implementing those processes. Sometimes failing to notice when employees are struggling.

Managers and leaders are positioned to positively alter the working conditions that present risks to employee mental wellbeing. But if they aren’t actively aware of the potential triggers, or paying attention, they’ll miss key indicators of concern.

Areas of focus

  • Being attentive to signs of a poor work/life balance
  • Encouraging staff to work sensible hours
  • Ensuring they take full lunch breaks
  • Advising them to rest and recuperate after busy periods
  • Insisting they avoid working weekends or days outside their work schedule
  • Encouraging them to take their full annual leave entitlement
  • Reassuring them that they needn’t blur the lines of home and work

A key to ensuring employees are happy and supported is by making sure they feel safe in their job. Removing active or implied pressure from above can be a great starting point to lifting the weight on their shoulders. Knowing that you care is the first step in the open dialogue surrounding mental health.

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Become a Mental Health Champion

Mental health issues can arise as a result of experiences, or manifest for no obvious reason. And many employers still remain uncertain about their responsibilities to protect employees with mental health issues. But there are ways you can become equipped to provide positive and effective support.

Being able to spot the warning signs of poor mental health early on is essential. This way, subsequent intervention and support have a higher chance of being beneficial. Reducing any avoidable negative experiences for team members and the likelihood of them leaving the workforce.

Around 300,000 people with long-term mental health issues lose their jobs every year. Offering the right support early on can significantly reduce this number. However, 56% of employers who want to do more to improve staff wellbeing admit they lack the right training.

learndirect now provide online courses that teach you how to maintain good mental health in the workplace. Whether you’re a manager, business owner or employee, you can become equipped to help your company support mental health.

From emergency response for mental health in the workplace to awareness of mental health problems. Each course will raise your awareness.

Find out more about how you can study online to become a workplace mental health champion. Simply click the link to our mental health faculty below.   

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