Mental Health – The Invisible Problem

It’s easy to know how to deal with someone who breaks their leg and has to take time off work because they are unable to travel in or need to go to physio appointments – but dealing with mental health in the workplace is harder because it is invisible.

Mental health and stress is the main cause of absence at work

And yet it is something that anyone working in HR must address.  In 2015, for the first time, the CIPD Absence Management Survey cited mental heath and stress as the main cause of absence in the workplace and now states that reported health problems at work has risen from a quarter to almost third in the past five years (and to 46% in the voluntary sector).

One in four suffer from a mental health condition

With one in four people in the UK suffering from some kind of mental health condition, this is not something that can be swept under the carpet. If you knew of a condition that could potentially affect a quarter of your staff, surely you would be encouraging staff to share experiences, maybe even form some sort of support network…

Mental health problems in the UK adds up to £26 billion a year

And yet the sad fact is that many people who are open about their mental health issues find that they become sidelined at work – albeit discreetly. Not only is this very unfortunate for the staff involved, it can also open up a new can of problems for the employer. Staff affected by a mental health issue are not going to perform to their best ability, and one employment lawyer told us that he is seeing more and more claims from employees who are feeling under pressure to walk out of their jobs and are making claims for constructive dismissal. And the Centre for Mental Health estimated that the total cost of mental health problems for UK employers adds up to £26 billion a year.

But it is not just about absenteeism. According to the CIPD research, around half of people experiencing mental health problem still go into work – which can result in them finding it hard to concentrate, having difficulty making decisions, and taking longer to carry out tasks.

Steps you can take as the employer

So what can you do to help? An open culture that makes employees feels comfortable about revealing their mental health issues, without fear of redress, is vital. In the Employee Outlook report from the CIPD (July 2016) only two in five respondents said they would feel comfortable disclosing mental health issues with their manager or employer. But they also need to know that being honest about their problems will be met with understanding and support. Helpful, and yet quite small changes, such as adjusting working hours or workload can make a big difference.

Of course, understanding the range of mental health problems is also an important part of the procedure. Depression and stress may immediately come to mind but there are other issues, such as panic attacks and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Colin Minto, founding partner of Big Idea Talent, a network of HR and resourcing associates, suffers from OCD. It’s not all about obsessive cleaning, as some would have you believe, but the obsessive compulsion can attach itself to all kinds of scenarios. Yet, Colin says on the CIPD website, it is not always a disadvantage: “I see benefits to my OCD. I can see on a page of writing, a half point-size difference between two letters. I can analyse things and spot a risk a mile off. I’ve been told I think differently at work – I bring a different perspective to other people. In some ways, OCD helps me do my job better.”

He would love employers to see how people’s ‘differences’ could actually help improve their business.

“I want businesses to realise it doesn’t need to affect productivity and performance – on the contrary, if you support people, it could actually increase them. People who are different come up with different, sometimes better, solutions, and form better teams.”

Embrace HR Limited, based in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, helps SMEs who do not have their own HR departments, or those who need HR support from time to time. Please get in touch if you have any questions or require more information on this article by email: cecily.lalloo@embracehr.co.uk or phone: 07767 308 717.