What happens when employees’ mental health in the workplace isn’t a priority?

a woman with poor mental health in the workplace

In recent years, the conversation surrounding Mental health in the workplace has intensified, with more attention drawn to the need for comprehensive support systems.

In many companies, robust mental health support for employees is still a ‘nice to have’ rather than a necessity. As companies struggle with an unpredictable economy, a cost-of-living crisis, and global instability, every investment is understandably scrutinised, with some processes and procedures being cut altogether.

Curtailing investment in mental health support within the workplace is a false economy when you consider that poor workplace mental health costs the UK £56bn a year.

Woman feeling stressed by time pressures on her at workThe modern workplace is rife with challenges that can affect employee mental health, including high stress levels, long hours, and in some cases, inadequate support from management. The current cost of living crisis has exacerbated these challenges, stretching employees’ mental and emotional resources to breaking point. The Mental Health Foundation reports that one in six workers experience depression, anxiety, or stress-related issues each year.

Furthermore, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey highlights that only 50% of UK employees feel their employers provide adequate mental health support.

This shortfall is often attributed to the lack of financial investment in mental health resources. Many businesses perceive expenditure on mental health not as an essential investment but as an optional expense that can be reduced or eliminated when budgets are tight. This approach overlooks the long-term costs associated with poor mental health, including increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, and higher employee turnover.

Ignoring the mental well-being of employees has profound implications. From a human perspective, employees struggling with mental health issues without adequate support may experience worsened conditions and a decreased quality of life. This not only affects their work performance but can also impact their personal relationships and long-term health. Employers, therefore, face not just a moral imperative but also a business one to address mental health proactively.

The long-term implications of poor mental health

Decreased productivity and efficiency: Chronic mental health issues can lead to decreased productivity, known as presenteeism, where employees are physically present at work but operate at a reduced capacity. Deloitte’s insights indicate that the cost of presenteeism due to poor mental health is significantly higher than the cost of absenteeism—potentially 2 to 3 times more costly.

Increased employee turnover: Prolonged neglect of mental health issues can lead to increased staff turnover. Employees who do not feel supported may leave in search of a better environment, which can be costly for companies. Replacing staff can cost up to one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary, considering the recruitment, training, and lost productivity during this time.

Damage to company culture and morale: A lack of focus on mental health can erode company culture and lower team morale. This degradation can create a toxic work environment, pushing more employees towards stress and dissatisfaction and eventually leading them to exit the organisation.

Man experiencing poor mental health due to high workload

Increased workload for other employees: The absent employee’s responsibilities often fall to their colleagues, leading to increased workloads. This can elevate stress levels amongst the remaining team members, potentially causing further mental health issues and a cyclical decline in team well-being.

A lack of team cohesion: Regular absenteeism can lead to feelings of resentment or frustration amongst team members who might feel overburdened or perceive the distribution of an absent colleague’s work as unfair. This can disrupt team cohesion and affect overall morale.

Reduction in collaboration and creativity: Teams function best when all members are available to contribute their unique perspectives and skills. Absenteeism can lead to missed opportunities for collaboration and creativity, which are crucial for innovation and problem-solving. A decrease in innovation can also reduce the competitive prowess of a company.

Legal and compliance risks: In the UK, employers have a duty of care for the health, safety, and well-being of their employees, which includes mental health. Neglecting this duty can lead to legal repercussions and penalties under health and safety laws.

By investing in robust mental health support, businesses can avoid these negative outcomes and foster a healthier, more productive workforce. Such investment not only supports employees but also protects and enhances the company’s bottom line and reputation in the competitive market landscape.

When budgets are cut, it’s logical that some elements of operation have to go (or be paused until the bottom line improves). Given the financial constraints many businesses currently face, it’s crucial that they explore cost-effective strategies that can still significantly positively impact the mental health of employees in the workplace in the interim.

Creating a culture that encourages open discussions about mental health can destigmatise these issues and encourage employees to seek help. Leaders and managers should model this openness by participating in conversations about mental health, which can create a more inclusive atmosphere. Establishing peer support groups within the workplace can provide employees with a sense of community and shared understanding. These networks encourage employees to speak openly about their challenges and share coping strategies, which enhances the overall support system within the company.

Woman with a child balancing her work and family responsibilities

The flexibility to work from home or adjust working hours to more sympathetically align with employees’ childcare provisions, for example, can help them manage stress and improve their work-life balance. Such practices are generally well-received and can increase employee loyalty and satisfaction.

Training managers to recognise and respond to mental health issues can be done cost-effectively. Many free or low-cost online courses can equip managers with the necessary skills to support their teams compassionately and effectively so that they can recognise any signs of distress, initiate supportive conversations, and signpost team members to appropriate resources. Many digital resources and apps offer free services to support mental health, including mindfulness exercises, stress management techniques, and cognitive behavioural therapy. Encouraging the use of these tools can empower employees to take an active role in managing their mental health.

Happy, engaged and performing employees

Integrating physical wellness into the workplace can have physical and mental health benefits. Initiatives like sponsored fitness classes, wellness challenges, or providing healthy snacks can contribute to a healthier, more engaged workforce.

The business case for investing in mental health has never been clearer. To further demonstrate this, a study by the American Psychological Association found that for every $1 invested in mental health treatment, companies could expect a return of $4 in improved employee health and performance.

As UK workplaces navigate the challenges posed by the cost-of-living crisis, business leaders must recognise the substantial returns on investment that mental health initiatives can yield. By adopting cost-effective strategies, businesses can enhance employee well-being and improve their productivity and resilience in these challenging times. Addressing mental health proactively is not just a corporate responsibility—it’s a strategic and imperative essential for long-term success.

Find out more about Managing Your Stress To Achieve More Learning Experiences, which support the development of a more resilient and emotionally healthy workforce. Contact us here to have your questions answered.

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