Jo Sellick, Managing Director, Sellick Partnership, highlights the need to reduce the stigma associated with mental health at work on this year’s World Mental Health Day
In 2018 the You Gov Mental Health at Work Report said that one in three UK workers have been formally diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime. Similarly, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that 12.7% of all workplace absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions.
As a business owner, these statistics scare me. Not only because of the impact mental health can have on productivity and morale, but also because of what it could do to the health of my employees. Sellick Partnership employs over 100 members of staff and I believe it is my responsibility, and that of the wider senior management team, to support our employees where we can, especially when it comes to feeling stressed or depressed at work.
The fact that so many UK based employees are still not receiving the support needed to successfully recover from, or work with a mental health condition is unacceptable, and in my opinion, more needs to be done to eradicate the stigma that is still associated with mental health illnesses.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, people with mental health problems say that the social stigma attached to poor mental ill health and the discrimination they experience can make their difficulties worse and make it harder to recover. We have created a culture where it is not okay to ask for help, and where insecurities and mental health issues are seen as a weakness and this needs to be tackled. It is this stigma that is fuelling the issue, and if more was being done to create cultures where it is okay to ask for help I truly feel we could reduce the number of absences as a result of poor mental health.
But what can businesses do to create this culture? The secret is in communication and ensuring you have open and honest conversations about mental health with your staff. At Sellick Partnership we do this by regularly promoting the importance of communication and the need to support employees to our senior management team. We have also created a mental health awareness guide, especially for managers to help them understand, spot and support employees that may be suffering from mental health-related illnesses.
Despite the large number of UK workers that are silently suffering with poor mental health, I do believe we are witnessing progress across the business community. As a recruiter, I have daily conversations with clients from varying sectors about what they are doing to attract and retain key members of staff, and that implementing mental health policies and putting strategies in place to support staff is featuring high on the agenda for many of them. A number of them are looking at what adjustments they can implement to make the working day easier on their staff, including flexible working, additional support from management and weekly/monthly review meetings. Adjustments like these mean that business leaders can support employees suffering with poor mental health when needed, assisting with workloads and having conversations around what might make their day-to-day easier to manage.
I do not believe, however, that businesses should be left to tackle this alone. The UK government needs to also make mental health a key priority. Earlier this year Theresa May spoke out about mental health and vowed to make it a priority, acknowledging that “too many of us have seen first-hand the devastating consequences of mental illness”, however, I fear that under Boris Johnson’s new premiership this may be about to fall by the wayside.
Johnson’s view that you can rid mental health problems by working harder is absurd, and ideas that preferential tax treatments should be given to companies that give their employees “the counselling and the help they need to do their jobs” worries me. Yes, I totally agree that businesses need to be supporting their staff during times of need, however, access to mental health support should not be based upon whether you are employed or not. For me, this is a step too close to America where employers take much greater responsibility in the healthcare of their staff rather than the government, something we should be trying to avoid at all costs.
Instead, the government should be working with local and combined authorities to promote mental health and give families the tools, support and knowledge they need to improve their own, and their families’ mental health. We also need to ensure that May’s legacy of training teachers to spot signs of mental health early lives on. The policy – that received cross-party praise – would see teachers trained to identify children who might have mental health problems and to address issues such as self-harm. This would be a truly rewarding initiative and would go some way to support more people suffering with mental health issues as early as possible.
But I feel this is just the beginning. The government also needs to look at what they can do to support businesses and UK based workers. It is therefore imperative that businesses put pressure on our new Prime Minister and the government to pick up what Theresa May started and ensure that mental health is high on the agenda moving forward. This could be in the form of training materials or courses for management to adequately support employees that may be suffering from mental health issues, but I do not believe it is right to offer tax incentives to businesses that comply. Instead, it should be a legal requirement that all businesses have some sort of policy in place to protect victims of poor mental health.
With support from the government, and if businesses work together with mental health charities, I do believe we can eradicate the stigma associated with poor mental health, support our workforce more successfully and create a culture of acceptance across the UK. I believe this will help improve productivity and GDP, reduce the number of unauthorised sick days and raise awareness of a cause that impacts so many modern-day workers across the globe.