This week I wanted to concentrate on the 2019 Mental Health at Work report. I have to say that the results whilst unfortunately not a surprise were still difficult to read.

I have taken text from the report to ensure that there is no dilution of the findings or implications to the work force.

Louise Aston Wellbeing Director of Business in the Community acknowledges the improvement in mental health awareness within all forms of life. However, going on to task employers to make a real difference.

‘Whilst mental health awareness has universally risen, the findings in our national survey show too many employers are tinkering at the edges rather than making the fundamental changes that are really needed to improve wellbeing, retention and productivity. Those who aspire to be employers of choice must tackle the barriers outlined in this report.’

‘The number of employees who have experienced poor mental health due to work, or where work was a contributing factor, in the past year has increased significantly. People who come to work don’t expect to be physically injured and also should not expect to be psychologically harmed.’

Dr Wolfgang Seidl Partner and Workplace Health Consulting Leader, Mercer Marsh Benefits goes further than Aston in his plea to employers to make changes that will make a real difference.

‘Yet again, we have evidence similar to last year that poor mental health has reached epidemic proportions. And even with a significant increase in awareness and more people coming out to talk about their experiences, we are not even close to tackling the problem.’

‘Companies are pushing managers towards tactical, not strategic solutions. Commissioning mental health training that helps managers recognise poor mental health symptoms is not useful on its own. Instead, managers should be able to relate to troubled colleagues with empathy. Managers should internalise good behaviours, not just list off a load of symptoms, which aren’t likely to be useful and are better understood by health professionals.’

‘Interventions are needed that aren’t vague or incorrectly recorded. A lunchtime session on how to deal with stress isn’t going to create measurable impact. We need a whole-person approach with a clearly defined employee journey showing where their first port of call should be, where to be referred with warning signs and issues with chronic conditions. This will help de-stigmatise mental health issues and build more trust with employees from all backgrounds.’

‘A culture of health takes a whole person approach, which breaks down the stigma to entry so that people are comfortable coming forward with mental health issues and not just physical ones.’

I have to this point concentrated on the comments from the team leading the study. The main body of the report is no less instant that things need to change. The recommendations and findings include:

  • Employers need to stop harming the mental health of their employees through poor business practices and culture.
  • Employee mental health is also affected by negative work relationships, and people not feeling able to trust their managers.
  • Responsible business needs to be the mission of all employers. Not enough employers are taking full ownership over measures within their organisation to support their staff.
  • Employers need to rapidly provide appropriate support for those affected by poor mental health caused by factors both in and outside the workplace.
  • As in previous years, there remains a worrying disconnect between what senior leaders believe about the support they provide and the reality of employees’ experience. Those at CEO and Board level are more likely than those with no managerial responsibility to think their organisation supports its staff – 51% against 38%. Worryingly, the proportion of employees who believe their organisation does well in supporting those with poor mental health fell to 41% from 45% over the past year from 2018 to 2019 over the past year from 2018 to 2019.
  • Good employee mental health is fundamental to building a successful, sustainable organisation. We know that good work positively enhances wellbeing and there needs to be much greater emphasis on this. Despite this, more than 6 in 10 (62%) managers have had to put the interests of their organisation above staff wellbeing either sometimes, regularly or every day.
  • With mental health issues estimated to cost employers around £34.9 billion each year (according to the Centre for Mental Health), providing effective support isn’t just the right thing to do – it makes complete business sense.
  • Whilst progressive employers are making a positive impact, the scale of the challenge means we really need to step up our response. It is simply not acceptable for employers to be the cause of mental health problems among staff – they must take ownership and be part of the solution. We urge every employer to follow our recommendations to help put good work into practice. It’s time for employers to be far more ambitious and aspirational. Many organisations can make a faster change than they think.

I can only echo the findings of my esteemed colleagues. The time for the one size fits all approach to employee mental health needs to stop. Ticking a box or having a policy is no longer enough to claim that an employer is meeting their responsibilities to the people that work for them. There are new ways to approach the situation, we do not have to rely on the solutions of the past to improve the lives of those that work for us, after all I don’t know any business that would take a computing system from 10 years ago so why do we still revert to the old arguments and solutions when it comes to staff wellbeing?