Why is workplace mental health still soaring?

£105.2 billion is spent each year in the UK due to ill mental health, whilst up to 83% of Americans find themselves stressed in the workplace. Efforts are being made to ensure employee mental well-being improves, however nothing seems to be working and mental health statistics seem to have stayed broadly flat for a decade (even with certain measures being taken to decrease this). So why is employee mental health not improving? Why are US suicide rates in the workplace soaring? Why are UK employers having to spend up to £2.4 billion to replace lost staff due to poor mental health whilst 70 million workdays are lost due to mental health problems?

Over the years, numerous actions have been taken in an attempt to decrease the shockingly high number of employees who feel stressed. In the UK, working days lost due to stress has increased by 24% in 6 years. Whilst stress tends to be experienced more within industries regarding public services (teaching, police work, health care workers etc), it can be seen across almost every job role and sector. The rate of depressive disorders among healthcare workers compared with the general population is alarming, however the problem is not purely within the UK, with 400 physicians in the US committing suicide due to workplace stress/depression per year. That is over one physician ending their life every single day of the year because of the job they are doing and the lack of treatment they are receiving.

What exactly is being done about this?

Whilst 1 in 5 people take a day off and a quarter of people contemplate resigning due to stress, it’s relatively hard to find evidence that what employers are doing for their employees regarding mental health is working. There are numerous different factors which contribute to workplace stress and burnout (exhaustion and lack of motivation) which includes but is not limited to - Lack of control over work, heavy workload, tight deadlines, no challenges, too low of a workload, lack of clear priorities, low pay, poor working conditions and undervalued social position.

Employers should be fully aware that they will be employing people who will struggle with a mental health problem, yet with just under half of employees feeling as if they cannot speak to their line manager, it is difficult to provide a solution. New idea’s that have been introduced include ‘the walking mile’ which consists of having meetings whilst walking (both the fresh air and the movement is beneficial to mental wellbeing), promotion of healthy eating and physical wellness including a discount on gym memberships, group resilience sessions, and many more. But what clinical evidence is there to show a benefit? Anyone can write a case study, anyone can write a testimonial - It's the evidence and research we're keen to see.

Some employers are not made aware of how to spot the signs of employee stress and burnout, thus not being able to provide a solution. The signs every line manager should be looking out for are an increase in unexplained absences or sick leave, poor performance, poor timekeeping, increased consumption of alcohol, tobacco or caffeine, frequent headaches or backaches, withdrawal from social contact, poor judgement/indecisiveness, constant tiredness or low energy and unusual displays of emotion e.g. frequent irritability, or tearfulness. By spotting signs early, you can help in a more effective way.

In 2010/2011 the HSE calculated the cost of work-related stress/psychological absences to be around £3.6billion to the UK economy. Given the figures have all risen since 2011, we can only assume the cost to be greater in 2017. Let’s put that in real terms. On average, employee absence from work due to stress, anxiety or depression lasts 23.9 days. Rounding this down to 4 working weeks, and at an average salary of £27,600pa, the cost to the organisation is a minimum of £2,300 per employee, per absence. To see more about cost to your business, see the infographic here.

There are a variety of different factors which can cause stress and poor mental health ranging from heavy workloads, tight deadlines, little time for breaks and also other environmental influences such as the media, other colleagues and role models. With a lot of people constantly feeling as if they need to keep up to date with the latest trends or have the most luxurious car, phone or bag - it is often difficult to avoid comparing yourself. Comparing yourself to others at work or to those across social media will decrease productivity as the mind is elsewhere. 

Until organisations can find tools that provide accurate, actionable data showing a return on investment, we won't know what is working and what isn't. Feel Stress Free provides that information, and we've seen the impact it can have with our partners who support it. Over the next 5 years our mission is to see these statistics in the workplace dramatically reduce, and we've already shown a big, measurable improvement with the partners we work with.

Bronwyn SouthrenComment