15 March 2018

Employers need to champion mental health awareness

Increased media coverage in both the public and private sector to raise awareness and support for sufferers of depression, anxiety and stress, we believe there is a still a  damaging stigma attached to mental health, particularly in the workplace.


We recently conducted research, through our ‘Not A Red Card Offence’ campaign, revealed that 51% of the 2000 full-time employees surveyed, suffer from depression, anxiety or stress at least once a week, yet fewer than one in 10 felt comfortable discussing it with their manager. In stark contrast, a huge 78% of employers believed their staff would feel able to talk to them about their concerns. Sadly, around one in five surveyed felt they couldn’t open up to anyone about their mental health issues.

The Government recently issued a report on how employees can be helped to stay in work. This report;  Thriving at Work, uncovered another worrying statistic; despite there being more people in work with mental health issues than ever before, as many as 300,000 employees lose their jobs every year because of it.

The vast difference between employers’ perception and the reality of the situation shows just how much work must still be done to banish the taboo and normalise conversations around mental health. We have created a culture of “suffer in silence” and this needs to change.

A 2017 report by the charity Business in the Community, revealed that two thirds of those suffering from mental health issues cited work as the reason. We now live in an “anytime, anywhere” world, where people can be reached beyond normal working hours and a healthy work/life balance is not always easy to strike.

Research has shown that employees would feel more motivated if their employer showed support for their mental wellbeing. It’s therefore vital that employers create a supportive, caring environment that encourages people to speak openly, and ask for help if they’re feeling overwhelmed.

Overcoming the stigma around mental health needs action from everyone, but employers are in a unique position to start the conversation. Awareness campaigns such as “Time to Change” and their annual “Time to Talk Day” are making great strides in encouraging open discussions between colleagues, friends, families and schoolmates. We joined the campaign in 2013 and has regularly enhanced the mental health support and services available to our staff. The latest development was to create a team of Mental Health First Aiders who are trained to recognise symptoms in others.

Through our “Not A Red Card Offence” campaign, we worked with personalities to raise awareness, educate and encourage action around reducing the stigma of mental health in the workplace. Employers and employees need to know that talking about mental health is a not a “red card offence.”  Rather than worry they’ll be seen as weak, employees need to know that talking about their concerns is a sign of strength. Not only that, but being open, will help to encourage others to share their own experiences and show those impacted, that they’re not alone. 

The campaign provides resources, key information and additional content from the sports personalities taking part, on a dedicated microsite.

As a nation, we need to move towards creating a working culture where conversations around mental wellbeing become normalised. There is a strong correlation between staff wellbeing and their performance and motivation in the workplace. Mental health problems in the UK workforce costs employers almost £35bn a year. That amounts to £1,300 for every employee in the economy.[1] The largest part of this cost is from those who are in work, but have reduced output as a result of being unwell.

At a time when the UK is working hard to boost productivity, it’s important to put staff wellbeing at the heart of everything  businesses do. To achieve this, employers need to champion mental health from the top down, sending out a clear signal that it will not be treated any differently to physical health. Employers need to invest time and care into encouraging employees to speak openly about their mental health issues, and be quick and sympathetic in their response to those concerns.

Employers also need to provide their managers and HR with the right training to ensure they have the skills to spot warning signs early on and respond appropriately. Introducing trained mental health champions in the workplace can be another great way to provide support to those who need it the most. 

Early intervention services are also key in supporting employees who are suffering from mental health conditions. Employees need to be aware of where and how they can access the support they require; a clear framework that details what is available as part of a wider health and wellbeing strategy is crucial. 

None of these initiatives are particularly complex or time-consuming, but the difference they can make is enormous. Taking a positive, proactive approach will have significant benefits for both employees and businesses, and help to build a culture that champions good mental health.

[1] Mental health at work: The business costs ten years on – Centre for Mental Health