High profile businesses sign up ‘to end the silence’ on stress at work

A group of leading employers have launched a campaign to end the culture of silence around mental health in the workplace that is costing the UK economy an estimated £70 billion per year.

The campaign, led by the recently formed Workwell Mental Health Champions Group, includes BT, Bupa, RBS, Mars and Procter and Gamble among its founding members. It aims to raise awareness of the problem of mental health at work so that tackling it carries the same strategic importance at board level as planning for staff physical health.

The group has published a report highlighting the business case for this work called ‘Mental Health: We’re Ready to Talk’.

The report explains that the lack of transparency around mental well-being is stifling UK business productivity and competitiveness. This is back up by recent research from the OECD, which found that mental ill-health costs the UK economy an estimated £70 billion a year or 4.5 per cent of GDP.

And Office for National Statistics data shows that sickness absence caused by stress, anxiety or depression had increased to 15.2 million days lost in 2013 up from 11.8 million days in 2010.

The campaign’s report said that employers do not have proactive plans in place to ensure the mental well-being of their employees. In addition, many people affected by these problems lack the confidence to speak out, while at the same time, incidence rates of mental ill-health are increasing dramatically.

The CIPD’s 2013 Absence Management Survey revealed that two-fifths of organisations saw an increase in mental health problems last year, compared with only one-fifth in 2009.

In an effort to redress this rise in incidences of stress, anxiety and depression, the campaign is calling on every UK business to take action and demonstrate their commitment to tackling mental ill-health at work by signing the Time to Change organisational pledge. It has also urged employers to join Business in the Community’s (BITC) Workwell Mental Health Champions Group to change the culture in UK businesses.

Louise Aston, Workwell director at BITC, said: “Unless proactive, preventative steps are embedded into how businesses manage and nurture their people, issues that could otherwise be resolved simply can soon develop into ill health, absence and disengagement.

“Organisations that do not promote the mental well-being of their employees risk long-term problems, including reduced competitiveness, lower productivity and fewer prospects for sustainable growth. Conversely, the rewards for businesses that engage with this issue are huge.”

The group’s report features case studies from employees and employers whose proactive strategies around staff mental health produced positive results for personal and organisational performance. It also sets out guidance for businesses on how they can take a responsible approach to improving mental well-being and support mechanisms for employees with existing conditions.

According to the report, the benefits for businesses that proactively engage with mental well-being include improved employee motivation, greater staff retention rates and increased competitiveness.

Patrick Watt, corporate director at Bupa Health Funding and chair of BITC Workwell Mental Health Champions Group, said: “This report gives the strongest evidence yet of the business costs of ignoring mental health. It’s the first time such high profile business leaders have come together to address this issue.”

The report ‘Mental Health: We’re Ready to Talk’ has been developed in association with the mental health charity Mind, the Work Foundation and the CIPD.