The issue of mental health within the workforce has become a key concern for many employers over the last 12 months. More relevantly, both the UK and Welsh Governments have recognised that this issue is one in which they can intervene by promoting better wellbeing within both public and private organisations.

A report last year by Monitor Deloitte - the multinational strategy consulting practice of Deloitte Consulting - showed the extent of this problem within the UK and, more relevantly, the negative impact on the UK economy.

It estimated that poor mental health costs UK employers between £33 billion and £42 billion each year which is made up largely of absence from work (£8 billion), presenteeism i.e. attending work whilst ill and therefore not performing at full ability (£17 billion-£26 billion) and employee turnover due to mental health (£8 billion).

Whilst the public sector makes up roughly a fifth of the UK labour force, it is responsible for around a quarter of the total costs of mental health, with the highest average cost per employee to be found in the health sector. Within private businesses, the highest annual costs of mental health per employee are in the finance, insurance and real estate industry.

What is worth noting that whilst the average workplace absence per employee has declined over the last decade, the proportion of days lost due to poor mental health (stress, depression, anxiety and other serious mental health problems) has actually increased.  However, it has been suggested that this may actually be an under-estimation of this issue due to the fact that many employees may be unwilling to talk about their problems because of  stigma and embarrassment with employers having a lack of understanding about mental health symptoms.

Whilst there may be a problem with those with mental health issues taking time off work, there is increasing concern over how presenteeism (in this case attending work whilst ill with poor mental health) is affecting the productivity of many organisations. A recent study showed that around 70 per cent said that they had experienced poor mental health at their current employer although only 40 per cent of these respondents had taken any time off  for their mental health issues.

This is a growing problem and the report estimates that mental health-related presenteeism costs employers up to three times the cost of mental health-related absence. And its costs are increasing due to changes in the workplace – such as perceived job insecurity and an increase in remote working – which are causing difficulties to employees.

In terms of staff turnover, recent data shows that as more people choose to leave their employer voluntarily and spend less time, on average, at each employer, mental health related turnover costs increase. This, in turn, incurs greater expenditure due to the expense in finding the right candidate and the increased entry costs of lost output as the new employee gets up to speed.

As poor mental health and wellbeing can impact an individual’s ability to thrive at work and earn a living, there are obviously tangible benefits for those organisations that develop a positive strategy to identify and support individuals who bring their mental health problems to work with them as well as providing mentally healthy working conditions.

For example, a systematic review of previous research shows that the return on investment (ROI) of workplace mental health interventions is overwhelmingly positive with a payback of over £4 for every £1 invested. The most effective are reactive one-to-one mental health support (ROI of 5:1), proactive mental health support (ROI of 6:1) and organisation-wide culture or awareness raising (ROI of 8:1).

In fact, the study showed that the most effective tool was a multi-component health promotion intervention which included a health risk appraisal; personalised health and well-being report; access to a personalised health, well-being and lifestyle web portal (including interactive online behaviour-change programmes; and information packs on the four most prevalent health risks namely stress management, sleep improvement, nutritional balance and physical activity. The question for many employers in the UK is how many actually are proactively utilising any of these interventions, never mind all of them?

Therefore, the Deloitte study shows clearly that mental health is an increasing challenge for more organisations in the UK but it is a challenge that can be managed with the right interventions. 
And whilst policymakers are still largely focusing on developing interventions in production and management practices to deal with lower rates of productivity, this report clearly indicates that focusing on the improved mental wellbeing of individual workers can also make a significant difference to developing a more productive UK economy.

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