Why it Pays to Take Mental Health at Work Seriously


Change can only happen when people speak out, and this is a significant issue that affects so many in the workplace and wider society.

Numbers and statistics can provide a framework, but for every person battling with mental health, numbers don’t matter, what matters are the actions of others, explains Ciara Morrison, Head of Talent at Instant Offices.

Within every business, there will be those who suffer in silence to the point that control is lost and the very act of getting out of bed becomes utterly overwhelming. Employees are still reluctant to share mental health information with their managers or bosses, seemingly for good reason. The stigma associated with mental health, being treated unfairly, becoming the subject of office gossip or compromising your employment terms are all legitimate fears.

And considering 300,000 people in the UK lose their jobs every year due to mental illness, these fears would not seem to be unfounded.

Someone who did reach out was Madalyn Parker. She shared the response of her CEO after she booked time off to focus on her mental health, and it went viral. This stirred up interest because most employees certainly don’t get praised for taking time off for self-care. It also highlighted how important it is for employers to tackle this sensitive issue in the right way.

Studies suggest that millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) display the highest levelsof anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide of any generation.

They are also simultaneously on the cusp of becoming the largest global workforce by 2020. Many would argue that they have already had a significant impact on the modern workplace by redefining employer-employee relationships, prioritising work-life balance, and shunning the traditional workplace for co-working and shared office space.

Positively, awareness around mental health in the workplace has also become more prominent.

According to a report, the average person spends 90,000 hours of their life working, and poor employee mental health can be due to factors internal or external to the workplace. Without effective management, this can have a serious impact on physical health, productivity and more.

Factors at work that can impact mental health:

  • Conflicting work and home demands
  • Excessive workload
  • Lack of recognition
  • High-stress environments
  • Poor leadership

Currently, one in every six employees in Great Britain suffers from mental health issues, with mental ill-health being one of the leading causes of absence from work in the UK. Poor mental health not only leads to burnout, fatigue, irregular moods, stress, anxiety and reduced focus but eventually takes its toll on relationships and physical health as well.

How the situation deteriorates:  

  • Increased sick days

Ignoring mental health issues can eventually lead to physical sickness and the inability to work. Absence due to mental health has risen by 5% since 2009 in the UK.

  • Presenteeism

Showing up at work when ill can result in a loss of productivity, exacerbate mental health issues and add more pressure to what is an already toxic cycle.

  • Limited career options

Due to lack of awareness and sensitivity around mental health at work, 35% of people think they are less likely to get promoted if they suffer from depression.

  • Low team morale

If someone with a mental illness reaches a point where they can no longer work, other team members usually have to take on increased workloads. The knock-on effect can be damaging.

When Business Doesn’t Take Mental Health Seriously

In the modern workplace, smart employers are placing workplace wellness at the core of their business by recognising the importance of their staff. They are going beyond protocol, processes and profits to ensure individuals feel valued and supported. Wellness and workplace health initiatives are varied but include everything from serious interventions and counselling services to mindfulness training, flexible working and even options like yoga, time off and massages at work.

That said, an alarming number of companies are still avoiding the topic of mental health in the workplace. A report by the Centre for Mental Health revealed that absence due to mental health cost the UK economy £34.9 billion last year. Additionally, the economy lost:

  • £21.2 billion in reduced productivity
  • £10.6 billion in sick leave
  • £3.1 billion in staff turnover

To help combat this challenging issue, events like Health and Wellbeing at Work aim to reduce the number of people that suffer from mental-health related issues at work, as well as educate employers on the initiatives they can introduce to create a thriving workplace.

The NHS also stated last year that mental health would become ‘front and centre’ of the health service agenda.