Let’s get the ball rolling on mental health in the workplace

Exhausted businesswoman
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Kate Headley
Director
The Clear Company & The Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI)
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According to figures from XpertHR, the median number of employees per HR practitioner was 62.5 in 2016. Meanwhile, approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year according to mental health charity, Mind.

This means that HR professionals will, on average, oversee 15 staff with mental health conditions each year. However, whether the employer is aware of these conditions or not is another matter entirely. 

In fact, according to a recent study by Legal & General, less than 10% of employees feel comfortable disclosing mental health conditions to their employer – meaning that HR is likely to face a challenge in supporting these individuals adequately.

Despite the fact that HR professionals are required by law to assist employees with mental health conditions under the Equality Act 2010, low levels of disclosure continue to be a barrier to assistance.  

With this in mind, HR strategists should look at ways to foster a culture of openness which actively encourages staff to share their needs on an ongoing basis so that they can be fully supported

In my experience, organisations which foster an open and sharing environment around disclosure are rewarded with not only a more contented and productive workforce, but also measurable advantages in terms of reduced sickness absence levels and increased staff retention and profitability.

Reasonable adjustments for candidates and employees with mental health conditions may include:

  • support with managing workload
  • flexible hours to allow for periods of rest
  • a desk in a quiet area of the office to help manage anxiety
  • time off work to attend appointments or a little extra time to make decisions to help manage stress

Ultimately, no one is in a better position than the person living with a mental health condition to determine what support they need – but HR can only get the ball rolling once lines of communication are opened.

A recent survey conducted by Comres for BBC Radio 5 live found that half (49%) of British adults in full-time work say they’d be unlikely to talk to their boss about problems such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder.

In our experience, employers who invite employees to share their individual needs as a matter of course usually see disclosure levels skyrocket.

With the Mental Health Foundation recently finding that 86% of 2,000 individuals with mental health conditions agreeing that their job and being at work is important to protecting and maintaining their mental health, learning how to recognise and support these individuals is imperative.

It is also worth noting that the organisation calculated that people in the workforce who have experienced a mental health problem contribute £226 billion to the UK economy.

This represents 12.1% of UK GDP - nine times greater than the £25 billion cost of lost productivity arising from mental ill health. With this in mind, getting to grips with mental health is not only a moral responsibility for HR leaders – it’s also good for business. 

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