Organizations Must Get Proactive To Support Mental Health In The Workplace

According to Deloitte, one in six workers experience a mental health problem and organizations can (and should) do more to help.
  • According to a report from Deloitte, one in six workers experience a mental health problem.
  • Stress, anxiety, and depression are thought to be the reason for almost half of working days lost.
  • Employers should do more to help people with mental health problems, including offering preventative support.

Deloitte’s most recent research on mental health in the workplace, “Mental health and employers, refreshing the case for investment”, concluded that “there is more that employers can be doing to support mental health among the workforce”, particularly in regards to tackling stigma, increasing awareness, and providing adequate training. 

The report argues that there is a range of evidence about the increasing prevalence of mental health at work and if employers don’t do something to change this, mental health could “soon surpass other work-related illnesses such as musculoskeletal disorders, respiratory diseases, cancer, skin issues, and hearing damage.”

According to the report, a sixth of workers experience a mental health problem at any one time. Stress, anxiety, and depression are thought to be the reason for almost half of working days lost in Britain. 

The complex relationship between mental health and the workplace

Research has shown that work-related mental health problems — including stress, depression, and anxiety — had stayed stable until around 2014-2015, when they showed signs of increasing. 

Deloitte believes that these mental health problems are largely caused by:

  • Increased pressure and workload
  • Lack of support
  • Negative work relationships
  • Lack of trust in managers
  • Poor handling of organizational changes.

Interestingly, and quite worryingly, Deloitte found that “the burden of poor mental health at work affects young people disproportionately, and there has been an increase in the prevalence of mental health problems among this age group.”

Although over the past few years organizations have increasingly focused on addressing mental health in the workplace, the reality remains that there is still more that needs to be done. Though these programs have done plenty of good, “changes in working practices have presented additional challenges to maintaining good mental health.”

As an example of these changes, Deloitte mentions the negative consequences that the always-on culture can have on employee wellbeing

Some positive changes Deloitte has observed around mental health in the workplace include:

  • Greater support that is now provided for employees, particularly in large organisations.
  • Greater social awareness of mental health issues through a number of high profile campaigns and forums. 
  • A reduction in the level of stigma at work associated with mental health issues.

However, Deloitte also identified some negative changes:

  • A rise in ‘leaveism’, where employees are unable to disconnect from work due to an increased use of technology, contributing to burnout. 
  • An increase in people working under short-term contracts, in freelance work or without sufficient employer support, creating uncertainty about their financial future and with little concern for their mental health and wellbeing needs. 

The cost of mental health problems in the workplace 

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Deloitte estimates that “poor mental health among employees costs UK employers £42bn – £45bn each year.”

The £42bn – £45bn costs are made up of:

  • £7bn due to absences 
  • £27bn to £29bn due to presenteeism
  • £9bn due to turnover 

Suggested Reading: Presenteeism – What Is It And Why Is It A Problem?

These numbers represent an increase in costs of about £6bn and 16% on the figures in Deloitte’s 2017 report. 

The above are just the direct costs associated with work-related mental health problems. There are also other indirect costs to employers of poor mental health in the workplace, including reduced creativity, productivity, and innovation, as well as the negative impact it can have on organizational culture. 

The ROI of mental health at work 

Deloitte estimates that employers obtain a return of £5 for every £1 (5:2:1) invested, up from £4 for every £1 spent (4:0:1) in their previous report. 

Interventions that provide the highest returns 

Interventions that offer the highest returns all share the following characteristics:

  • They offer a large‑scale culture change, or organisation‑wide initiatives supporting large numbers of employees. 
  • They are focused on prevention or designed to build employee resilience. 
  • They use technology or diagnostics to tailor support for those most at risk.

Deloitte found that culture change and a rise in awareness can provide a ROI of £6 for every £1 invested. This is a “relatively accessible and cost‑effective way for employers to effect real change in their organizations.”

Employee training on mental health issues also provides a high ROI, £5 for every £1 invested. Reactive support, which is an important part of mental health offerings, provided on average a ROI of only £3 for every £1 invested.

Screening individuals to provide targeted, preventative support seems to be a better strategy for organizations and employees alike.

“Recognising the issue of mental health, and the clear business case for solving problems of poor health, is only a first step.”

Additional findings from the report

  • Mental health is deteriorating more in larger organisations, with about 7 in 10 employers experiencing an increase over the past year in reported mental health conditions. 
  • The costs to employers of poor mental health are disproportionately high among young employees, at 8.3% of average salary compared to an average across all age groups of 5.8%. 
  • Young professionals have emerged as the most vulnerable demographic in the workplace as they are twice as likely to suffer from depression as the average worker, and more susceptible to leaveism and financial concerns. 
  • Many employees still don’t feel able to talk about their mental health.
  • Young people are much more likely to present themselves at work, rather than take days off, if they are struggling with their mental health. 
  • SMEs are a lower visibility but higher risk category where employees may benefit from greater, formalised support.
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