Employers need solid understanding of unhealthy workplace practices

Unmanageable workloads are the greatest cause of stress at work, leading to mental ill health. How can organisations dig deep and take action to combat this widespread problem?

Mental health wasn’t on the agenda for most organisations a decade ago. Now, there is much more recognition of the role employers have for supporting people’s mental health at work. ‘We have made progress, but we still have a long way to go.’ The opening words from Tony Wood in Business in the Community’s Mental Health at Work 2018 report, produced in conjunction with Mercer, aptly sums up where UK policy is positioned in terms of mental health at work.

The report charts the positive improvements that have been made in workplaces but says ‘The pace of change is too slow’, a conclusion that is backed up by a range of survey findings. For example, in 2018 45% of employees believe that their organisation does well in supporting those with mental health issues, compared with 40% in 2016. 30% of line managers have taken part in mental health training this year compared with 22% in 2016. 

Our CIPD / Simplyhealth Health and Well-being at Work 2018 survey report shows that mental ill health is an even more significant issue for organisations than it was in 2016; over a fifth (22%) now report that mental ill health is the primary cause of long-term absence compared with 13% in 2016, and there has also been a significant increase in the number of reported common mental health conditions among employees in the past 12 months. Hopefully, the fact that many more organisations are raising awareness of mental health issues across their workforces (51% in 2018 versus 31% in 2016) is fostering a more open culture where employees are more willing to talk about their mental health.

If organisations are serious about improving people’s well-being, they need to dig deep and take action to combat the root problems causing poor mental health, such as unmanageable workloads – yet again by far the greatest cause of stress at work according to the CIPD research. Organisations need to develop a solid, evidence-based understanding of the causes of unhealthy practices such as ‘presenteeism’, or people turning up for work when ill – a trend observed by nearly 9 in 10 employers. 

Our findings show less than a third of senior leaders encourage a focus on mental well-being through their actions and behaviour, or that line managers are trained in supporting people with mental ill health. We need to see a substantial improvement in both of these areas if we are going to achieve the step change needed to improve people’s mental health at work.

It’s time to seize the moment and take action. There is a wealth of good practical guidance available for organisations on mental health, such as Business in the Community and Public Health England’s Mental Health toolkit for employers and CIPD and Mind's People Managers’ Guide to Mental HealthMental Health at Work gateway, in partnership with Mind and The Royal Foundation, is aimed at HR professionals, employers and managers in supporting those with mental ill health at work.

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