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Mental Health in the Workplace

Posted by Denise on 6 July 2011 | 0 Comments

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OK, I’m going out on a limb here.  Surfacing an issue that costs businesses billions in sick leave and poor productivity, but is rarely spoken about.  Mental health in the workplace.

Investing in a mentally healthy workplace has been shown to contribute to effective cost management of absenteeism, grievances, disability, retraining, and turnover, and improved productivity, retention, recruitment, and engagement.   

 In the workplace wellness context whilst we talk more openly about workplace support and return to work strategies for serious health issues, such as cancer, or physical ailments, such as a broken leg, the same culture does not  exist  for mental health issues.  It remains the unspoken.  Why is that?

 Experts say good communication in the workplace is essential if people are to open up about problems before spiralling into depression and anxiety.

 Recently I read the following article in The  Independent.

"Failure to tackle depression at work costs firms billions

...Research undertaken by the UK charity MIND revealed that workers feel unable to disclose mental health problems to colleagues or bosses because discrimination is rife and openness discouraged.  As many as one in four workers have experienced discrimination or witnessed colleagues being discriminated against at work because they suffered from a mental health problem

Mental illness is the most common health problem to affect people of working age: one in six suffer from severe stress, depression or addiction at any one time. The financial effects alone are startling, with a cost to UK businesses of more than £26bn last year, according to the Centre for Mental Health (CMH).

Mind is campaigning to challenge stigma, bullying and inadequate support services. It wants to persuade employers that spotting staff struggling with stress and mental health problems and then providing the right support will save them billions in sick leave and poor productivity.

One in four workers said their bosses rarely or never asked them how they were. Less than half said their bosses regularly listened to their viewpoint, while two-thirds said they do not feel valued at work.

Amy Whitelock of Mind said: "Mental health problems remain the elephant in the room. Poor communication fuels the problem because if your boss or manager doesn't even ask how you are, how could you possibly approach them about anything more sensitive? There is still a culture of denial which means employees are afraid to speak out because they fear discrimination or being thought of as weak, and employers are afraid to broach the subject in case they make things worse." 

Fear of being bullied or isolated means workers are more comfortable taking time off for physical ailments than depression or anxiety, according to Mind's survey of 2,006 people. This means thousands go to work every day despite feeling mentally under par, costing the economy £16bn a year in underperformance or "presenteeism", according to the CMH.”  Article ends.

In New Zealand research shows that 47% of people will experience a mental health issue (Te Rau Hinengaro: The New Zealand Mental Health Survey, 2006).  For business owners this raises the question of what this means for their  workforce. 

Consider the range of significant environmental issues we have experienced in recent times.  Top of the list are earthquakes and changing economic climate.  Many businesses have experienced  first  hand  the impact  of these on workforce productivity.   Many have responded by putting in place  support  for their staff, whilst trying to keep the business going.  Individuals and teams at every level are talking more openly about how they are feeling and coping, and what support they need.   Could this be the beginning of longterm organisational cultural change around mentally healthy workforces?

At the HRINZ Nelson Branch August Networking event we’re going to be discussing this very issue with our panel event  'Building Strong Workplaces'.  A panel of workplace wellness specialists  will  discuss  how  savvy employers are actively, and openly,  addressing this issue through early detection and better support for mental health problems.  Event and registration details will be posted soon on the Branch page.

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