Its time we started talking about mental health in the workplace

Written by
Martin Noone

16 Feb 2017

16 Feb 2017 • by Martin Noone

Reducing the stigma of mental health

One of many steps we must all take to reduce the stigma of mental health is to recognise that these problems can affect anybody and everybody. It is widely recognised that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. What is less well known is that mental health problems cost UK employers £30 billion each year through costs associated with a loss of production, recruitment and absence. 

Figures around staff absences can be misleading. At a first glance it would appear that average absence levels in the UK are falling. According to the CIPD Absence Management Survey 2016, an employee was absent from work an average of 6.3 days per year, down from an average of 6.9 days per employee per year in 2015. This seemingly positive decline conceals the fact that mental health problems are a major cause for staff absence across the UK.

The CIPD survey also revealed that 31% of organisations have reported a rise in absences due to mental health problems in 2016. This alarming figure confirms that mental health issues are the most common cause of long-term absences and the second most common cause of short-term absences. Legal & General’s own figures support this fact, confirming that mental health has consistently remained the top reason for Group Income Protection claims since 1999.

Working enviornments have a part to play

Working environments can play a key role in helping to tackle mental health problems by creating an atmosphere where both employers and employees have open discussions about their physical and mental health. Legal & General runs a variety of internal campaigns, including real-life examples to raise awareness of how mental health problems can affect any member of staff.

Early intervention has the potential to significantly shorten long-term absences and, where early intervention is not possible, a rapid response is essential. Without this, short-term problems run the risk of becoming long-term, and an absence can increase from weeks to months. When an absence reaches six weeks, the chances of the employee returning to work rapidly decreases. After six months of absence, the probability of the employee returning to work drops to 50%. These figures show that the longer the absence, the great the financial impact will be on both the employer and employee. 

Legal & General’s Group Income Protection (GIP) proposition includes early intervention so that they are able to quickly assess and arrange the most appropriate treatment which will then by funded through the GIP policy. In 2015, Legal & General arranged and paid for 6,491 psychological treatments without needing to wait for a GP referral. 

There is a variety of support systems available for both employees and employers to better address mental health problems. It is important that the workplace is an environment that encourages open discussions around mental health, which will in turn be supportive and beneficial to everyone within a business. A great first step to start having open conversations is 'Time to Talk' day on 2nd February, something Legal & General will be supporting as one of many initiatives around mental health in 2017. Once we recognise the widespread impact of mental health on individuals and businesses, and encourage employees to discuss their problems openly, then we will be able to work towards creating a progressive, open workplace environment which provides an entire workforce with the support it needs.