Mental health in the workplace

words: Simon Bloxham, Safety for Business

Mental health issues are widespread in the UK today, with one in six people experiencing a mental health problem in any given week. These issues are commonly experienced throughout individuals’ working lives and could be due to a number of factors, including stress, anxiety, pressure and depression.

A recent study conducted by the Mental Health Foundation and employee benefits provider Unum surveyed 2,000 people who are in work and found that the majority of them are living with a mental health condition.

These worrying figures highlight the enormity of the issue and make it clear that mental health has a negative impact on both employees and employers. Mental health is costly to employers, with research from the mental health charity Mind finding that 21% of respondents said that they had called in sick to avoid work.

When asked how workplace stress affected them, 14% had resigned due to workplace stress and 42% had considered resigning. In order to increase employee retention, it would greatly benefit employers to place a stronger focus on mental wellbeing in the workplace, by ensuring that measures are put in place to support employees.

For employers to be able to offer their employees support with their mental health and wellbeing they need to be better educated on the signs and symptoms of mental health issues. If employers focus on how they can create an inclusive workplace where employees feel that they are able to disclose any mental health problems, they will be able to offer better support.

In a survey by the Mental Health Foundation, 58% of respondents who have had a mental health problem in the last five years had decided to disclose this to their employer. Just over half of the respondents (54%) reported a mainly positive experience. However, 15% reported a mainly negative experience and 29% of respondents who had chosen to disclose said that they had experienced direct discrimination on mental health grounds.

Mind also found that 56% of employers who were surveyed would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don’t feel that they have the right training or guidance. Many managers feel that they cannot relate to employees who are experiencing mental health issues due to having not experienced them themselves.

It has been found that managers who have experienced mental health issues could be a valuable resource to employees. Managers who have experienced mental health issues have been found to be more confident when dealing with employees who are suffering with similar conditions and are able to offer them greater levels of support.

Work-related stress is defined as “a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands in the workplace”.

Workplace mental health issues are often associated with stress. Exposure to high levels of stress at work can cause emotional symptoms such as depression, tearfulness, withdrawal, mood swings, loss of motivation or concentration and behavioural changes, such as smoking, drinking, drugs, changes to eating or sleeping habits and nervous behaviour.

Poor employee mental health arising from stress can cost a business time and money in lost productivity and sickness absence.


All employers have a general duty to look after the welfare of employees under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and to assess and manage risk to their staff under Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

This includes assessing and minimising the risk of stress-related illness.


Knowing what you can do as an employer to tackle work-related mental health issues can be tough. The HSE has produced Management Standards for Work Related Stress. This sets out six key areas to look at:

Demand: Workload, work patterns and work environment
Control: An employee’s say in how they do their job
Support: Encouragement and resource provision
Relationships: Promoting positive working and avoiding conflict e.g. bullying/harassment
Role: Helping employees understand their role and responsibilities
Change: Management and communication of change

Practical advice for your workplace

• Demonstrate good practice
• Use a step-by-step risk assessment to assess your workplace
• Promote discussion
• Promote working in partnership with employees to decide on practical improvements
• Focus on underlying causes
• Help employees to get to the root cause of stress in the workplace

Help is at hand – get the best from your SAIF approved health and safety advisors. Talk to Safety For Business free of charge, by calling 08456 344164. You are also entitled to a discount on our fees when we help you with your health and safety needs. We can visit you to see how you are doing when it comes to compliance. This is free of charge, apart from travel costs.

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