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How to convince your company that mental health matters

Warning. This blog post may make you feel very uncomfortable. And then you’ll share it with your employer, and make them feel uncomfortable too.

Discussing returns of investment and costs to business alongside mental health disease and suicide feels so very wrong, but we’re going to do it. And absolutely not because the financial costs are more important than the human costs of mental health disease, but because the cold hard facts and figures of these shocking human and business costs are sometimes what’s required to trigger a much-needed change in your workplace.

Why mental health disease matters

Poor mental health can affect anyone, at any time. 1 in 4 people in the UK are estimated to have a mental health problem each year1 and 15% of the UK workforce experiences symptoms of poor mental health at any given time2. Despite increasing awareness of mental health disease, stress, depression and anxiety are the main causes of work-related ill health in the UK3.

With full-time employees spending close to 30% of their time at work, encouraging a positive and proactive attitude towards mental health in the workplace has a significant impact on both wellbeing and productivity.

Significant human costs

The effects of mental health reach far beyond the workplace and touch every single aspect of someone’s life, from their relationships, to lifestyle and physical health too.

Crucially, mental health diseases are a devastating cause of loss of life, with 1 death by suicide in the UK every 2 hours. Suicide is the main cause of death amongst young people (aged 20-34) and the main cause of death for men under 504. This age group forms a large chunk of the workforce.

Investing in mental health

Poor mental health in the workplace amasses to a phenomenal cost of £33bn-£42bn per year in the UK. That’s between £497 – £2564 per employee and in total approximately 2% of UK GDP5.

Deloitte conducted a systematic review of the available literature and calculated that putting measures in place to support mental health had an average return of investment (ROI) of 4:1, meaning that for every investment made, the gain is 4 times as great.

In fact, the research showed that the ROI of early-stage supporting activities (through having an organisational culture of openness, acceptance and awareness) can be as high as 8:15.

A work culture and environment that is supportive of mental health benefits from:

  1. Reduced absenteeism. Absenteeism refers to when someone is present at work but not productive. This is incredibly common when it comes to mental health disease. A fear of talking about mental health, of being considered unfit to work or unsuitable for promotion leads to a culture where employees (of every seniority) will drag themselves into work, regardless of the fact that they feel (and are) unable to work.
  2. Less time off work. People with a mental health condition are 3 times more likely to have a long term period off for sickness.
  3. Fewer job losses. 300,000 people with a long-term mental health condition lose their jobs every year.
  4. Less employee turnover. There are human and economic costs to employers and losses in productivity when needing to find and train a new employee.
  5. Less stress on other staff. Poorly managed or supported mental health problems frequently result in increasing workloads and stress for other team members.
How to support mental health in the workplace

In January 2017, prime minister Theresa May requested an independent review looking at how employers can better support the mental health of all people currently in employment.

This review, entitled “Thriving at Work”, proposed a set of 6 “mental health core standards”, set out as a framework of actions that all organisations in the country would be capable of implementing quickly.

We’ve looked at these 6 recommended standards and found some useful resources, plus inspiring examples of good practice to share.

  1. Produce, implement and communicate a ‘mental health at work’ plan
  2. The mental health charity, MIND, has produced a very good and freely accessible template called the “Wellness Action Plan” (WAP). The WAP is inspired by an evidence-based system used worldwide by people to manage their mental health. There is a WAP document available for employers and one for employees, so do take a look or show it to your employer to get the conversation started.


  3. Develop mental health awareness amongst employees
  4. There are many ways of raising employee awareness. Some businesses, including Babylon, have Mental Health First Aiders. These are employees who have voluntarily attended company-sponsored training so that they can recognise mental health conditions in the workplace and signpost towards support. Another idea is to organise Mental Health Awareness & Wellbeing weeks, including talks for staff, on topics such as burnout, stress and wellbeing.


  5. Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
  6. A great example of this can be found in the construction industry, where a large number of construction companies and industry experts came together and created Building Mental Health.


    This excellent resource suggests simple and engaging activities to open up conversations around mental health, including providing “Building Mental Health” stickers to be stuck on the back of helmets, with differing colours to highlight: staff with Mental Health First Aid training, staff that have completed their mental health awareness training and staff that are “Building Mental Health Supporters”, who are there to speak to and keep other employees safe.


    With a little imagination, this kind of approach can be applied and personalised to all businesses, bringing the discussion around mental health out in the open.

    When it comes to accessing support, at Ernst & Young, employees are provided with a 24 hour confidential counselling service. At Babylon we offer 24/7 free access for employees and their family members to GPs digitally and also to psychotherapists.


  7. Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development
  8. Unilever are a good example here, having put together a whole global health strategy based on a 4 pillar well-being framework. Their well-being strategy aims to create a working environment that is supportive of employees’ personal lives, while meeting the company’s business needs. They achieve this through various ways, including ‘agile working’, “providing employees with safe, adaptable working practices and technology, allowing them to perform their job anywhere, at any time, as long as the needs of the business are met.”


  9. Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors
  10. In order to create a culture that supports positive mental health, senior management needs to be well informed and in full support. Ways of ensuring this includes organising specific training for managers and developing a mental health charter that requires the signatures of senior management.


    There are a variety of services out there that provide mental health training for managers, including MIND and ACAS.


  11. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing

At Babylon we’ve had a great response to monitoring employee wellbeing. We do this using confidential online surveys, via Peakon, that are reviewed weekly by line managers. The surveys are a great barometer for how employees are feeling and the findings are then discussed openly at our stand-ups (weekly company-wide meeting).

Striving to improve

Although the modern world is more knowledgeable and open about mental health than ever before, there still remains plenty of room for improvement and many continue to find the topic an uncomfortable one. By learning from and supporting one another, and bringing mental health and wellbeing to the attention of all employers, we’ll be doing every single employee and employer a valuable, potentially life-saving, favour.

References

  1. McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey. The NHS Information Centre for health and social care.
  2. Lelliott, P., Tulloch, S., Boardman, J., Harvey, S., & Henderson, H. (2008). Mental health and work. Retrieved from gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/212266/hwwb-mental-health-and-work.pdf
  3. Health and safety at work. Hse.gov.uk. (2018). [online] Available at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statisti... [Accessed 1 Jul. 2019)
  4. Mental Health Foundation. (2019). Suicide. [online] Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.u... [Accessed 4 Jul. 2019].
  5. Mental health and employers: The case for investment. (2017). [online] Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/public-sector/deloitte-uk-mental-health-employers-monitor-deloitte-oct-2017.pdf [Accessed 1 Jul. 2019].