Gill Taylor: Promoting good mental health

As Mind puts together its first Wellbeing Index, our columnist surveys the wide problem of mental health issues in the sector

Gill Taylor
Gill Taylor

< This article has been amended; see final paragraph 

Mental health is a big workplace issue, with one in four adults experiencing a mental health problem in any one year.

Mind recently surveyed more than 15,000 staff working across 30 diverse organisations in its first-ever Wellbeing Index, a benchmark of best policy and practice when it comes to promoting good mental health at work.

This survey revealed that stress, anxiety and depression were commonplace in the workplace, regardless of industry. This chimes with the latest Absence Management Survey (2016) from the CIPD, which showed that across all industries, the most common cause of long-term sickness (four weeks or more) was stress and the third was mental ill health. Together they represented 43 per cent of the causes of long-term absence. Nearly a third of respondents to the CIPD reported stress-related absence had increased in their workplace over the previous year, which was particularly the case in the public and third sectors. More than two-thirds of public and third sector organisations also reported an increase in mental health problems being reported at work.

The Mind survey also revealed that 80 per cent of those who said their mental health was poor also said that the workplace contributed to it.

However, the CIPD survey shows that only 5 per cent of organisations have policy that relates specifically to mental health. Further analysis shows that 60 per cent of organisations with a policy on mental health do not provide mental health training for managers and just 31 per cent of those with a policy provide tailored support or mentoring for managers when required.

Even among those that do provide training, less than a third agree managers are confident and competent to identify and manage mental health issues. Similarly, less than two-fifths of those that provide managers with tailored support or mentoring agree managers are confident and competent to identify and manage mental health issues. These findings highlight the importance of reviewing and evaluating training and support efforts.

"Presenteeism" (people coming to work when unwell) remains a common issue, particularly in organisations where long working hours are the norm.

Most organisations make some effort to improve employee health and wellbeing, although only a third have formal wellbeing strategies or plans and organisations vary considerably in how actively they promote wellbeing. The CIPD reported that the methods most commonly used to promote and support mental health were flexible working options/improved work–life balance, employee assistance programmes and counselling.

If you don’t already provide an employee assistance programme, it is well worth considering and not costly. Make sure they have access to trained counsellors and advisers as part of the package.

Mind has published a guide, How to Support Staff Who are Experiencing a Mental Health Problem. This contains advice and examples on how to initiate a conversation about mental health, how to approach the topic of workplace adjustments and how to put together return-to-work plans for those who are off sick. 

The TUC has a guide, You Don’t Look Disabled, which explains an employer's duties to provide reasonable adjustments. 

There is also the guidance produced jointly by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and the CIPD, which offers advice to employers: Managing Long-term Sickness Absence and Incapacity for Work.

Gill Taylor is a sector HR consultant

< This article originally said that Mind had conducted the survey into the number of organisations that had mental health policies in place. This research was in fact conducted by CIPD. 

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