Managing mental ill health in the workplace

Laptop and coffee mug photoBy Donna Gardiner

As one in six employees will suffer from mental ill health at some point during their working lives, ensuring the wellbeing of employees is increasingly becoming a management priority (EU-OSHA, 2014). Indeed, the financial cost to British business of mental ill health has been estimated at £26 billion per year – which is equivalent to £1035 for every employee.

A public sector problem?

Mental ill health is particularly prevalent among public sector workers. According to the latest Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) absence management report, 60% of public sector organisations reported an increase in mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression among employees over the previous 12 months. This is compared to 38% of private sector organisations and 37% of non-profit organisations. Public sector organisations were also more likely to report that stress-related absence had increased among the workforce as a whole (55% compared to 38% of private organisations and 39% of non-profit organisations).

Considerable organisational change and restructuring was one of the most commonly reported causes of work-related stress, followed by workload. Both of these could be viewed as knock-on effects of budget cuts caused by the economic recession, the current drive towards public sector transformation and the increasing need to ‘do more with less’.

Raising awareness

There are many organisations and initiatives which are currently working to raise awareness and break the taboo surrounding mental health problems in the workplace. For example, MINDFUL EMPLOYER is a UK-wide initiative which provides employers with information and support in relation to managing employees experiencing mental health conditions. The Healthy Workplaces, Manage Stress campaign has also sought to raise awareness of work-related stress and to provide guidance on managing stress and promoting wellbeing within workplaces across Europe.

Taking action

Good practice advice on managing mental health conditions has been published by both ACAS and mental health charity Mind. Mind have adopted a three-fold approach which neatly summarises the main areas which organisations should address: promoting wellbeing for all staff; tackling the causes of mental ill health; and supporting staff that are experiencing mental health problems.

They suggest that organisation-wide wellbeing can be promoted by:

  • Embedding mental health in training and induction procedures
  • Using internal communications channels such as blogs, factsheets, tips for managers, useful weblinks and FAQs to raise awareness of mental health
  • Encouraging mental health ‘champions’
  • Promoting staff engagement and involvement in decision making
  • Implementing peer support, buddy systems and mentoring schemes
  • Providing staff with learning and development opportunities
  • Supporting teamwork, collaboration and information sharing
  • Developing robust policies on bullying and harassment.

Line managers can also help to tackle some of the causes of mental ill health within the workplace by:

  • Leading by example – working sensible hours, taking full lunch breaks, taking annual leave and having down time after busy periods
  • Familiarising themselves with the organisation’s mental health policies and practices
  • Creating opportunities for employees to discuss any issues they may be experiencing both in and outside of work
  • Discussing wellbeing and the factors affecting it in team meetings, and developing action plans to address any issues that are raised
  • Conducting regular one-to-ones and catch ups with staff
  • Helping staff to manage their workloads by ensuring that work is clearly defined, that expectations are communicated clearly, and that deadlines are reasonable
  • Treating employees with respect, praising good work and offering support where necessary
  • Involving employees in decisions about how their team is run and how they do their job
  • Ensuring that employees are confident and well-equipped to do their job to a high standard by being available for work-related conversations and providing formal training

Making adjustments

If an individual’s ability to carry out day to day activities is affected by their mental health condition then they are likely to be covered by the Equality Act 2010, which imposes a duty on the employer make reasonable adjustments to remove, reduce or prevent any obstacles to work faced by the employee.

ACAS and Mind suggest a number of potential adjustments which can be made to support people experiencing mental ill health:

  • Changes to working hours, breaks and allowing flexible hours
  • Modifying the employee’s job, for example, through job sharing, reassigning tasks and reassigning to a different position
  • Modifying the work environment, for example, making use of partitions, room dividers, reducing noise from telephones, and increasing ‘personal space’
  • Allowing the employee to work from home
  • Providing quiet rooms and ‘safe spaces’ for employees
  • Adopting a phased return to work following absence through mental ill health
  • Providing extra training, coaching or mentoring
  • Providing extra help with managing and negotiating workload

In addition to this, they recommend that the employee and manager develop a personal action plan to help proactively manage the mental health condition.

According to CIPD research, most organisations in the UK, particularly in the public and non-profit sectors, already have at least one initiative in place to support employees experiencing mental ill health. Counselling and flexible working options are the most commonly used approaches, used by 77% and 63% of public sector organisations respectively. In addition to this, almost half (48%) of public sector organisations are working to increase awareness of mental health issue across the organisation as a whole, and 38% provide training for managers to more effectively manage and support staff with mental health problems.

However, a small minority of public sector organisations (6%), and nearly a quarter of private sector organisations, admitted that they were not taking any action at all to address mental health issues among their workforce.


Further resources

If you would like more information on how to manage mental health within the workplace, the Information Service has collated a number of useful pieces of research, good practice and case studies, including the following items:

  • Working on it (mental health in the workplace), IN Mental Health Today, Jul/Aug 2014, pp8-9 (A51350)
  • The associations between psychosocial working conditions and changes in common mental disorders: a follow-up study, IN BMC Public Health, 11 Jun 2014 (A50563)
  • Polishing, building a fort… and more sensible ways to stop your staff burning out, IN People Management, Mar 2014, pp22-23,25-26,28-29 (A50248)
  • HR Leadership Forum to Target Depression in the Workplace (2014) Depression in the workplace in Europe: a report featuring new insights from business leaders (B37265)
  • European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) (2014) Managing stress and psychosocial risks at work: campaign guide (B36850)
  • A picture of health (link between staff engagement and health and wellbeing), IN HR Magazine, Apr 2014, pp47-51 (A49478)
  • Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) (2013) Absence management: annual survey report 2013 (B34139)

N.B. Abstracts and full text access to subscription journal articles are only available to members of the Idox Information Service. For more information on the service, click here.

3 thoughts on “Managing mental ill health in the workplace

  1. Pingback: Breaking down barriers: helping disabled people enter and sustain employment | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

  2. Pingback: Writing and recovery: creative writing as a response to mental ill health | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

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