Yesterday was World Mental Health Day - an initiative now in its second decade, designed to raise education and awareness around mental health issues and its impact on those whose lives are impacted by it. However, despite the ongoing work done to address the taboo and stigmatisation of mental health, its incidence in the workplace remains all too high.
Just last week Business in the Community research revealed that over three quarters of UK employees have experienced a mental health issue and for 62 per cent of employees, their work has been a contributing factor in their mental ill health.
Beyond the bearing on the individual, this worrying trend is also having a major impact on the effectiveness of businesses; indeed, between 2009 and 2013 the number of sick days lost to stress, depression and anxiety increased by 24 per cent. What is less tangible but equally concerning for business leaders is the impact of "presenteeism", essentially staff ignoring the problems they're suffering, and instead feeling compelled to plough on through the day. It's ineffective for the business, and it's harmful for the individual - so what's to be done?
The majority of businesses have been slow to put in place both preventative strategies to keep employees happy and healthy and also ensure that staff who do suffer from mental health problems have access to the right support and expertise. Equally important is the ability for employees to feel they can raise the issue. As an employer, your staff must all see this as part of their job, allowing you to build a workforce which feels valued, more productive and less stressed.
Responsibility for creating the culture where this is possible falls to senior management and team leaders. They all need to understand, buy into and commit to providing a positive, supportive culture for their staff. If they do this, they will reap the rewards.
Of course, there will always be instances where staff have mental health problems, it's the stigma that needs removing, not the condition. This is where HR needs to ensure it offers a network of support for employees, providing access to resources and external experts as required. HR also has a role in helping the business leaders better understand mental health issues and recognise the tell-tale signs of a staff member who is struggling.
To date, business has struggled to effectively tackle mental health problems. They have, by and large, adopted an approach that what they can't see doesn't exist. That clearly doesn't wash and its time that all business, big and small, take measures to tackle the issue. If they don't act, they'll soon see the problem on their balance sheet.