The Prime Minister has rightly put the nation's mental health at the centre of her 'shared society' ambitions. However, her recent speech focused heavily on supporting children and younger people in the classroom, which risks missing the mark.
Supporting those in the workplace must not be an afterthought. It is a major issue that has historically been ignored as a result of a lack of understanding and unclear lines of responsibility.
Mental health amongst men and women in their 30's and 40's is at it's highest rate ever, and this is having a direct impact on the productivity of the UK economy as the second largest cause of workplace absence. Indeed, we risk a focus on tomorrow's problems at the expense of the clear and damaging issues of today.
Critically, the rapid rise in mental health issues in the workplace - 71% since 2011 - shows that this is a problem that is likely to get worse before it gets better. Coupled with these challenges is the fact that the UK workforce is changing with a far greater range of ages covered. This is already shown in the number of older workers who require time off work for musculoskeletal injuries - the largest cause of workplace absence.
With the increase in understanding and awareness of mental health issues in the workplace, there comes a second of question of responsibility. With the NHS under fresh scrutiny, and the Red Cross describing the state of NHS emergency services as a humanitarian crisis, it is clear that the Government does not have the capacity to meet demands for mental health services alone. It is my belief that employers have a responsibility, and can do huge amounts to assist with the challenge of mental health issues.
In simple terms, the challenge of mental health issues is far greater than organisations realise but some of the support that they can provide is more straightforward than they imagine. Central to this is a desire to become a more resilient organisation.
The routes to this resilience lie, in listening, flexibility and honesty. Across the 180,000 people we cover in a broad range of UK employers in both private and public sector, we hear time and time again about the struggles of balancing competing commitments. This is backed up in the evidence, mental health absences significantly increase in the summer months and at Christmas, anecdotally this is because they are expensive times of year and school-age children are at home. The Prime Minister's, Just About Managing (JAMs) are driving the increase in mental health issues. Those in their 30s and 40s are being pushed hard by work and home life and they are at breaking point.
This is why, I believe that the policy focus of any mental health interventions should be aimed at this group, not the much talked-about millennial cohort (who have their own challenges as a result of inter-generational inequality), to support this stressed-out and worn-out section of society. In addition, this is the group that are at their most productive from a work perspective, they have the experience and expertise to add significant value to their employer. This economic value runs the risk of being lost as organisations do not provide the support that is required.
At the most straightforward end of the challenge this can be about listening and recording the thoughts and struggles of your employees. Successfully, conducting sensitive and diligent back to work interviews after someone has had time off for mental health issues has been shown to reduce the prevalence of the issue by 85% in the largest employers. This is just the beginning of a series of interventions that all organisations can implement to better support their teams.
Employers have a central role to play in meeting this massive challenge to the well-being of the British workforce - they also have a huge amount to gain by keeping a happy group of people working productivity. With the government's focus on the young, UK plc can step up and deliver for those in the middle of their working life. If they don't the costs will be huge in lost potential and the impact to the UK economy significant.