Mental health problems cost the UK economy at least £117.9 billion annually, according to research published in March 2022 by the Mental Health Foundation and the London School of Economics (LSE). That sum represents approximately 5 percent of the UK’s GDP and derives predominantly from workplace absences caused by mental health conditions (both long and short-term).
While statistics such as this might not be as shocking as they once were, given the heightened publicity mental health and its associated challenges recently received in the UK, particularly since the pandemic, they do solidify the economic case for preventing mental health related issues (rather than adopting a reactive approach) and concentrating on the workplace as a key forum for change.
And this is the position adopted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in their new guidelines on mental health at work (published 28 September 2022), which recognise that, for many, mental health and work are integrally intertwined and that absence from the workplace affects not only workers and employers, but also the economy at large.
Significantly, the guidelines adopt a three-pronged approach – prevent, protect and support – and strongly recommend, for the very first time, manager training as part of their preventative strategy. They suggest providing training to improve managers’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviours in relation to mental health and ensure they are equipped to support their workers with mental health challenges. This is a welcome recommendation given we know the relationship between managers and their team members is key for the health and wellbeing of not only those individual team members, but also their organisations as a whole.
The guidelines recognise that managers who are able to support the mental health of their teams will encourage employees to thrive, increasing talent retention in turn. This is a welcome development during a period of record level resignations and talent shortages. Specifically, the guidelines recommend training managers to identify the signs of mental health issues, to feel confident having open conversations about mental health, to appropriately signpost available support, to know where to go for guidance for themselves and to role model good self-care practice, inspiring their teams to look after their own mental health and wellbeing. These are practical, concrete steps that businesses can take to improve how equipped their managers feel to handle the subject of mental health in the workplace and improve the experience of staff working with mental health conditions or returning from absence as a result of the same.
The intention is that the guidelines will help prevent negative work situations and cultures, offering mental health protection and support for working people – a bold aspiration but one that’s definitely worth getting behind. You can access the guidelines here: Mental health at work (who.int) and they make for interesting reading.
If you’re looking to invest in your managers and improve your organisation’s approach to handling mental health issues and employee wellbeing more generally, please contact our Head of Training and Wellbeing, Amy White; [email protected]