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Employee Wellbeing 2019

It’s time for employers to take ownership of mental health

iStock / Getty Images Plus / zakokor

Louise Aston

Wellbeing Director, Business in the Community

Employers are contributing to the psychological harm experienced by their staff through poor job design and working practices, according to a recent report. Employers must take action to ensure their workplaces have a positive impact on mental health.

Our survey from more than 4,000 UK employees informed BITC’s recent Mental Health at Work 2019 report: Time to Take Ownership in partnership with Mercer Marsh Benefits and BITC’s Wellbeing Leadership Team. The report shows that progress is being made but it is not happening with the scale and speed that we urgently need.

Unacceptably, it found that employers are contributing to the psychological harm experienced by their staff through poor job design and working practices. Two in five (39%) UK workers experienced symptoms of poor mental health related to work in the past year, up from 36% in 2018.

The report also highlights that employers are not acknowledging or dealing with the adverse impact work has on employees’ mental health. Of the 39% of employees surveyed who have experienced poor mental health due to work, over half say this is due to pressure such as too many priorities or targets; 36% cited workload, and a third (33%) said that this was caused by negative work relationships.

In the UK, it is considered ‘normal’ for employees not to expect to be physically injured and, equally, they should not expect to be psychologically harmed. A profound cultural shift is paramount in order to achieve psychological safety.

Instead of pushing managers towards tactical ‘band-aid’ solutions, which aren’t in themselves capable of radically shifting the national dial, business leaders need to think strategically. It’s time for business leaders to take ownership and tackle the systemic causes of poor mental health.

What are the barriers to people getting the help that they need?

Lack of support for mental health issues, often caused by a lack of openness and the stigma of disclosing a mental health issue, attached to potential negative consequences come up frequently. Our report highlighted that:

  • 41% of employees experiencing a mental health problem reported that there had been no resulting changes or actions taken in the workplace
  • 51% of employees feel comfortable talking about their mental health issues
  • 9% of employees who disclosed a mental health problem were subsequently disciplined, demoted or dismissed.

The mental health debate has moved on and business leaders now need to step up and make direct changes to the way they think about and tackle mental health issues.

By encouraging empathy and an inclusive workplace culture, built on a foundation of psychological safety, companies can ensure lasting change.

What can employers do?

We urge all employers to sign up to the new Mental Health at Work Commitment developed in partnership with BITC’s Wellbeing Leadership and the Thriving at Work Leadership Council.

In a crowded and confusing marketplace, the Commitment is a simple umbrella framework to improve mental health at work. It draws together key activities that employers have tried and tested, and provides a simple, practical way for employers to navigate the complex mental health landscape.

Details of how to sign up can found on the Mental Health at Work website

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