A case for wellbeing and mental health in the workplace

Workplaces that are conducive to the health of those who work there are also workplaces where there is high engagement and productivity. Health in this sense means both physical and mental health.
As decent and compassionate beings, we want healthy workplaces to be the norm and that they are safe – both physically and psychologically.
There is the moral argument too – employers are no longer able to squeeze every last effort from their employees as they were in the industrial revolution. There are laws to obey. However, there may well be people who just read that sentence and think that they ARE in fact feeling that they are under a tremendous amount of pressure from their employers. When you look at the Health & Safety Executives survey of stress in the workplace the demands – workloads, deadlines are always the most common source of stress.
If employers want to get the best out of their employees there are many factors to consider – the effort to make workplaces great places to be is worth it.
People who are happy at work are:

  • more productive
  • accurate
  • creative and
  • make great colleagues
  • and they STAY!

Create a “magnet” for potential employees, and hold on to or retain, experienced & knowledgeable employees.
Staff retention is extremely important especially if you are working in an area where there is a skills shortage. And you can no longer “buy” staff retention. Younger employees in particular vote with their feet and are prepared to earn less to work where they are feeling valued.
Deloitte estimate that poor mental health among employees costs UK employers £42bn – £45bn each year. This is made up of

  • absence costs of around £7bn,
  • presenteeism costs ranging from about £27bn to £29bn and
  • turnover costs (replacing staff who leave) of around £9bn.

This is an increase of about 6bn and 16% on the figures in their 2017 report, driven primarily by a rise in presenteeism – coming to work despite poor health and underperforming.
Whilst overall sickness absence is falling, the proportion of days lost due to poor mental health appears to have risen; this may be due partly to improved reporting linked to greater awareness/lower stigma. The figures are likely to be an under-estimate of total days lost, for several reasons:

  • Employees may be unwilling to disclose the true reason for their absence (due to associated stigma), and either report their absence as a physical illness or use their annual leave.
  • Employees may be more likely to work remotely instead of taking time off, because of the stigma associated with mental health.
  • Employees may lack a full understanding of mental health conditions. For example, employees may record absences due to poor mental health as physical symptoms such as headaches.

What is Presenteeism and why is it getting worse?
While many individuals with recurring or prolonged mental health conditions are able to work at full capacity, presenteeism occurs when individuals come into work when they are unwell (with poor mental health) and work at a reduced level of productivity or effectiveness.
Deloitte estimate that the costs to employers of mental health‑related presenteeism costs are roughly three‑and‑a‑half times the cost of mental health‑related absence
This is due to a number of factors:

  • An increase in perceived job insecurity (with around 20% of the workforce believed to be working in ‘unsecured’ roles) which may mean that more people feel that they have to come in to work despite poor health.
  • A change in working patterns, especially greater connectivity, has made it easier for individuals to work away from their place of work on days when they would otherwise be absent.
  • Increases in workload and the nature of work undertaken means that individuals feel less able to take time off and more inclined to think that the work can be done away from the workplace

There are also other indirect costs to employers of poor mental health, such as the adverse impact on creativity and innovation.
What about financial benefits to employers – what Return on Investment (ROI) do they get from implementing mental health & wellbeing interventions?
The Deloitte Report of 2020 showed a financial case in favour of employers investing in mental health.
They now find that on average employers obtain a return of £5 for every £1 invested
Interventions that achieve higher returns tend to have the following characteristics:

  • They offer a large‑scale culture change, or organisation‑wide initiatives supporting large numbers of employees.
  • They are focused on prevention or designed to build employee resilience.
  • They use technology or diagnostics to tailor support for those most at risk.

Investing in wellbeing and mental health training in the workplace helps to bring that organisation wide learning to everyone and training can be at appropriate levels.
Training which is aimed at the Prevention of people becoming mentally unwell and their Resilience is particularly recommended – this is part of providing a psychologically safe workplace where people feel valued, heard and can reach out in times of need without fear of negative reprisals.
How can this be achieved?

  1. Providing adequate numbers of Mental Health First Aiders – 1 in 10 of the workforce provides a visible group of people who have the training and skills so people can approach them confidentially.
  2. Provide ongoing support for MHFAiders including time for reflection, self-care, debrief and keeping skills up to date (recommended 3-4 sessions per annum), Refresher training every 3 years.
  3. Managers trained to look for the signs of someone struggling and being confident to have those potentially difficult conversations at as early a stage as possible. This is for ALL managers including the Senior Management Team and compulsory when people are promoted to a management role.
  4. Mental Health Awareness training being part of the compulsory training EVERYONE receives when they join the organisation as part of their Induction
  5. The workplace having plenty of Wellbeing Champions – wellbeing is everyone’s business, and formal roles can be created. They will use lots of initiatives to keep wellbeing and positive mental health on the radar, such as
  • Many resources from national mental health organisations (MIND, Time for Change, Mental Health Foundation, Samaritans)
  • Examining policies for their effect on employee wellbeing
  • Organising calendars to celebrate particular days/weeks of the year – (e.g. Mental Health Awareness Week, World Mental Health Day, Stress Awareness Month)
  • Encouraging Stress Surveys annually.
  • Providing resources – flyers, wellbeing boards, wellbeing libraries, wellbeing awards etc
  1. Examine the support provided by the organisation
  • HR
  • Occupational Health
  • Employee Assistance Programmes
  • Flexible Working
  • Mental Health First Aiders
  • Mentors/Buddy Schemes
  • Other purchases, such as Private Medical Insurance
  1. Conducting Stress Risk Assessments annually and acting on the results (see HSE above)
  2. Other training and resources such as Lunch’n’Learns or Coffee and Chat or Wellbeing Wednesday and provide sessions on, for example
  • Managing stress
  • Increasing resilience
  • Improving happiness
  • Getting a good night’s sleep
  • Improving wellbeing
  • Unhelpful thinking
  • Increasing motivation
  • Conflict resolution
  • Managing grief in the workplace
  • Yoga (and Laughter Yoga)
  • Mindfulness
  • Nutrition and mental wellbeing
  • Physical exercise
  • And many more…

Provide these on a rolling programme, so that employees can plan to attend the ones which interest them. Many of these can be provided by Unlock Your Wellbeing – Contact to discuss your organisation’s needs.
Also see Ethical Reading’s Services Catalogue for a wide range of services which can be provided to your workplace, safe in the knowledge that you are acting in an ethical way and have the wellbeing of your team in mind. And that Deloitte have shown the ROI to be gained.


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