Recently, mental health awareness has been given greater attention in the media with the support of ambassadors such as HRH Prince William and HRH Prince Harry.
Past research has revealed that more than 48% of workers are affected by mental health problems every year and it is the leading cause of sick leave absences. It comes as no surprise that employers are now trying to look closely at the role they play in maintaining mental health and wellbeing of an employee. Mental health charities, such as Mind, welcome this change and ‘Minds at Work’, a social initiative has provided important contributions to improving well being in the workplace. Mental health, can leads to significant costs for employers, arising from sick leave, staff turnover and the productivity of unwell employees who come to work even when they are unwell. Surprisingly, 300,000 people lose their jobs every year due to long term mental health issues.
A published review “Thriving at Work” laid out six core standards of mental health and four more ambitious yet enhanced standards for employers. The standards come with a bold ambition that in ten years, employees will have good working environment leading to better mental health and hence giving a positive impact to our society and economy.
In times when the prime focus is on productivity, it is in the best interest of not just employees, but employers too to prioritise mental health.
The role of Government
The recommendations made by Thriving at Work were initially accepted by Prime Minister, Teresa May and other concerned government officials. It has led to the development of an implementation plan which specified the commitments of the UK government not just as an employer but also as a policymaker to address mental health issues in the workplace.
It has been over a year and the progress made is not much to talk about so far. The government is expected to do much more like providing legal protection under the Equality Act and improvement in statutory sick pay.
Only when the government starts doing more will the employers comply to existing equality and employment laws. People suffering from mental health issues are covered by the Equality Act, hence, it is important that employers start taking responsibility for making much needed adjustments for mental health problems just like they would do for a person with more visible physical problems such as a broken leg.
The role of employers
More and more employers today are increasingly trying to create mentally healthy work environments for their staff members. They have been trying to tackle work related causes of anxiety, stress and mental health by trying to promote wellbeing of their staff and supporting employees who are experiencing mental health illnesses. Employers invested in wellbeing initiatives are reporting reduced sick leaves by employees and higher morale already. The required interventions do not have to be expensive or massive, a generous annual leave, flexible working hours, free workout classes and regularly catching up with a colleague can make much more difference than one can think of.
Many smart organisations investing and prioritising workplace mental health are being rewarded with happier and more productive employees. But there is also a need to arrange for a platform where employees can openly talk about their mental health at work and be assured that they will be given support rather than become a victim of discrimination. Promoting the wellbeing of staff should become a legal duty rather than being considered an incentive. It should be a part of being a responsible employer and send a message to employees that their contribution is valued.
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