The report entitled Added Value: Mental Health as a workplace asset, includes a new economic analysis by Oxford Economics which quantifies for the first time that people with mental health problems – working in a wide range of industries, from construction to entertainment – made an estimated £226 billion gross value added contribution to UK GDP in 2015 (12.1 per cent of the country’s economic output).
This is greater than the contribution to GDP made by all industries located in the East and West Midlands combined and nine times more than the cost of mental health problems to economic output – an estimated £25 billion in foregone gross value added to the UK economy because of the cost of mental health problems to individuals and to business.
By 2030, the foregone gross value added due to the challenges arising from staff mental health problems is predicted to rise to £32.7 billion.
Understanding distress at work
The survey reveals the stark reality of distress in the workplace, shining a light on the biggest barriers to disclosure and suggesting strategies for protecting and improving mental health at work.
The survey says that 86 per cent of respondents believe that their job and being at work was important to protecting and maintaining their mental health while 88 per cent of those who had been diagnosed with a mental health problem in the last five years report having been through times where they felt stressed, overwhelmed or had trouble coping in the workplace
Almost half (49 per cent) of those surveyed who had experienced a mental health problem in the last five years have come to work whilst experiencing suicidal thoughts, clearly highlighting severe levels of distress in the workplace
Distress at work was not limited to those with a diagnosed mental health problem as 39 per cent of line managers who had no history of mental health problems indicated they too had experienced distress of this kind at times.
Understanding disclosure at work
Disclosure – whether staff feel safe to tell an employer about a mental health concern and what kind of reaction they experience – is crucial to improving and protecting mental health at work.
In this survey, 58 per cent of respondents who have had a mental health problem in the past five years had chosen to disclose this to an employer during that time, and the majority of those (54 per cent) have had a mainly positive experience.
Jenny Edwards, CBE, CEO Mental Health Foundation thinks that workplaces need leadership that demonstrates commitment to mental health as an asset of the organisation, and one that is critical to achieving business results or strategic outcomes.
She says, ‘This needs to cascade from board champions and senior leadership to middle management and then first line supervisors. At each level, leaders need to feel that investing in mental health is a valuable use of their time.
‘At every touch point – whether analysing absence figures in the boardroom or in appraisal and performance management in frontline supervision – leaders need to understand how to engage with mental health.’
Liz Walker, HR director, Unum UK, believes that employee wellbeing is rising up the agenda of employers in the UK, and a fundamental aspect of this is safeguarding the mental health of staff.
She says, ‘Organisations are responsible for ensuring practices are put in place to support those who live with mental health problems, as well as those who may do so in the future.
‘Line management plays a critical role in this – being able to spot the signs of distress, intervene early and know what support is available.’
Walker concludes, ‘By embedding a culture that is led by senior management, organisations can encourage a healthier work–life balance that is beneficial for both employee and employer.’