Why is mental health well-being important in the workplace?

  • 09 May 2019
  • By Helen Phillips
  • Read in 7 Minutes

Tags: business advice, Happy Staff, Mental Health, Wellbeing

Why is mental health well-being important in the workplace?

Why is mental health well-being important, and what can business owners do to look after the well-being of their teams?

Our mental health, just like our physical health, can vary from good to poor.  Poor mental health can affect any of us, at any stage of our lives, regardless of personality, education, or social background, and approximately one in four of us will experience a mental health problem each year.

The good news is that, as with our physical health, people with mental health issues can and do get better with the right support.

Costs to business:

Stevenson and Farmer carried out a review of mental health and employment in 2017 for the Department of Work and Pensions; they commissioned Deloitte to carry out an analysis of the costs to employers of mental health illness and found that this amounts to between £1,205 and £1,560 per employee per year – this equates to between £33bn and £42bn per year lost to the UK economy.  The costs are made up of:

  • Absenteeism: £8bn
  • Poor performance and productivity: £17bn – £26bn
  • Staff turnover: £8bn

Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity, and benefit from associated economic gains, and it is money well spent:  the World Health Organisation found in a recent study that for every £1 put into improved treatment for common mental disorders, there is a £4 return in improved health and productivity.

What causes mental health issues?

Different people respond in different ways to the pressures in their life, and the causes can be work-related, home-related, or a combination of the two.  A CIPD survey in 2016 found that more than half of the people reporting poor mental health said that it was due to a combination of work and non-work issues, whilst 37% said it was solely due to personal issues outside of work, and only 7% said it was the result of work alone.

Different people with the same mental health condition may have entirely different symptoms and coping mechanisms.  It is vital that we make no assumptions about potential causes of the problem, and that we treat each person as an individual.

Whilst some pressure can be motivating, and some people appear to thrive under moderate pressure, factors such as a poor working environment, unrealistic deadlines, poor communication, poor inter-personal relationships, and lack of management support can significantly impact on the well-being of employees who may be already dealing with the everyday challenges of family life.

What are your responsibilities as an employer?

Whether work is causing the health issue or aggravating it, employers have a legal responsibility to help their employees. Work-related mental health issues must to be assessed to measure the levels of risk to staff. Where a risk is identified, steps must be taken to remove it or reduce it as far as reasonably practicable.  Under equality legislation, employers may also have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments for an employee with a mental health issue

The  HSE Management Standards provide a framework for simplifying risk assessments for work-related stress, with a wealth of resources to help employers implement them.

What promotes good mental well-being?

The NHS website identifies five steps to mental well-being:

  • Connect with people around you – inside and outside work
  • Be active
  • Keep learning
  • Give to others
  • Be mindful

As an employer, you can promote these five steps and make sure that your working practices and working environment encourages these behaviours.

As a business owner, don’t forget to look after your own mental health and well-being too!  To quote Stephen Covey:  “The key is taking responsibility and initiative, deciding what your life is about and prioritizing your life around the most important things”  Do you find yourself struggling to find time to exercise?  Are you too busy to talk?  How many of the five steps do you prioritise in your diary?  You need to make room for them all!

What can you do?

Good people management practices need to be at the core of what you and your management team do.

When an employee joins the company, make sure you have a robust on-boarding process so the employee understands the organisation’s culture, values, strategies, and goals, and how they fit into the organisation – you need to make people feel part of the team.

Understand your employees’ preferred behavioural and communication styles – some of us love the buzz of being in an open plan office, or background music to help you through the day, and others need peace and tranquillity to allow them to concentrate and perform at their best.

Provide opportunities for ongoing learning and development throughout your employees’ time with your company, and provide continual, honest, and open feedback on how they are doing.

Give people clear, unambiguous objectives, agree deadlines that you both agree are achievable, and ask what support they need to achieve them.  Give people control over how and when they do the work, and respond quickly to requests for help

Deal with problems or conflict quickly – as soon as they arise.

Thriving at Work

The Stevenson-Farmer Review produced the landmark Thriving At Work Report (October 2017). At the heart of the report is a set of core standards on mental health at work:

  • Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan.
  • Develop mental health awareness among employees.
  • Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling.
  • Provide your employees with good working conditions.
  • Promote effective people management.
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.


If you want to learn more, Mind, the mental health charity, have produced an excellent Guide to Implementing the Thriving at Work Mental Health Standards


The well-being of your business depends on the well-being of your team

Fundamentally, looking after your employees’ mental well-being is both the right thing to do, and makes good business sense.  As Richard Branson says, if you look after your employees, they will be proud of your brand and provide great customer service – the customer benefits, the employees benefit, and business owners benefit through increased profits too.


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