Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

Why Businesses Should Care About Employees’ Mental Health

Jenni Hill Health & Safety

The World Health Organisation estimates that by the year 2020 mental illness will be the second leading cause of death and disability across the globe. With one in six workers experiencing depression, anxiety or unmanageable stress at any one time, every business in Britain has the potential to be affected by mental health problems.

Considering mental health problems cost UK employers £26 billion per year, it’s within businesses’ best interests to care about their employees’ mental health.

Studies suggest that work is one of the most effective ways to improve the well-being of individuals and there are numerous studies that suggest unemployment can be detrimental to mental health. However, in some cases work can trigger stress and anxiety or exasperate existing mental health issues.

Let’s take a look at how mental health issues can have an impact on businesses while looking for ways employers can improve health and wellbeing at work.


Stress is the number one cause of long-term absences of four weeks or longer for both manual and non-manual workers. Research suggests that absences caused by mental illness cost businesses £8.4 billion a year.

Employee absences can of course prove costly for businesses, particularly when faced with paying an absent employee and covering the cost of a replacement until they return.


Although poor mental health can increase the likelihood of absences, research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that more than four in ten employees battling mental health problems continue to go into work.

Many of these workers are able to carry on working to their full potential, but others can find it hard to concentrate, take longer to complete tasks, and have difficulty making decisions.

Many workplaces underestimate the impact the illness can have on business. A survey of 500 UK employers revealed that half believe employees suffering from stress and depression can still work effectively. However, businesses lose £15.1 billion each year through reduced productivity as a result of mental health issues. This is often referred to as ‘presenteeism’ and occurs when an employee is present but not working to their full potential.


Research by the Health and Safety Executive found that people who are stressed, anxious or depressed are more likely to have difficulty focussing on a particular task. As a result, they can feel distracted and, depending on the workplace, accidents could be more likely to occur.

Workplace accidents can of course prove costly to businesses, particularly if employees need to take time off work due to an injury. In some cases, employers may face legal proceedings if it’s believed they were negligent and didn’t do enough to protect workers.

Staff turnover

A 2008 CIPD survey revealed that work-related stress is a common cause of employee turnover, with 19% of respondents citing it as a reason for leaving. Unmanageable workloads, lack of support from line managers, and unfavourable working hours can also lead to staff turnover while also impacting employees’ mental health.

£2.4 billion a year is spent on replacing staff who leave their jobs due to mental ill health.

How can businesses help employees’ mental health?

By detecting problems as early as possible, the impact that stress and mental health problems have on employees can be minimised and some of the costs outlined above can be avoided. Here are a few ways you can monitor the well-being of employees and help them enjoy their time at work:


Starting a new role can be a stressful experience for any employee and if a new worker feels as though they are not being properly supported and introduced to their job effectively, problems could arise. Make sure you arrange a one-to-one meeting between the new starter and their immediate manager, introduce them to their fellow team members and talk through the organisation’s strategy and goals. It can also be wise to relay important Health & Safety information and offer detail of any health and well-being initiatives provided.

People management

The behaviours of line managers will to a large extent determine how happy an employee is in their role. Good line management can nurture positivity and help to identify any issues in their earliest stages. Poor management, however, can worsen health issues or even cause mental health problems to arise for the first time.

Training managers to spot signs of stress in their employees can be a great first step, as can teaching them how to manage people in an encouraging and sympathetic way.

Encouragement and understanding

If an employee reports feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, it’s important to have an open dialogue with them. By being honest and understanding, employers and employees can work together to find a solution.

Avoid making assumptions about a worker’s health and instead listen to what they have to say. Make it clear that anything they tell you will be treated with confidentiality. Be aware that mental health problems affect people in different ways so you may need to adapt your approach to meet the individual’s needs. Be flexible and willing to cooperate.

Don’t be afraid to seek advice from expert organisations such as the CIPD, Mind or Centre for Mental Health. You could suggest that the employee gets in touch with their GP for further support.

Building resilience

Mental health charity Mind suggests that employers can help workers cope with pressure in the workplace by focusing on building resilience and coping techniques.

When EDF Energy learnt that it was losing £1.4 million in productivity due to poor mental health amongst employees, the company introduced a comprehensive employee support programme to promote ‘being mentally fit’. One element of the programme involved offering psychological support to any employee that needed it.

EDF Energy’s programme resulted in an improvement in productivity and saved the company approximately £228,000 per year while increasing job satisfaction from 36% to 68%.

Helping employees to maintain good mental health can have numerous benefits for businesses. Companies can reap rewards in terms of staff morale, boosted productivity, and strengthened staff loyalty.

Many of the facts and statistics included in this post were taken from Mind’s guide to managing and supporting mental health at work.