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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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Mental ill-health issues cost employers £30 billion per year

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Mental ill-health issues cost the UK economy £30 billion each year in lost productivity, half of which results from people taking a total of 91 million days off work, according to a charity.

The Centre for Mental Health indicated that the other £15 billion was accounted for by employees turning up for work when they were unwell and unable to perform at their best.
 
But estimates from the Department of Health also revealed that one in four people are likely to suffer from a mental health problem at some point in their lives.
 
A new government-funded study conducted by the Working Families and One Plus One charities likewise showed that a huge one in three workers now suffers from anxiety or panic attack attacks due to work pressures.
 
As a result, the mediation service Acas has compiled what it describes as its “first guide to tackle the last taboo in business” with NHS agency, Workways, which provides advice on how to deal with mental ill-health at work.
 
Acas’ chief executive John Taylor said: “The stumbling block at the moment is that many employers and managers shy away from dealing with mental illness at work because it can be hard to pin down and it is a very sensitive matter to deal with.”
 
Supportive environment
 
But a willingness to discuss mental health issues was a necessary precursor to creating a culture in which employers could help their staff recover from mental illness more easily, he added.
 
Therefore, the practical step-by-step guide is intended to help HR professionals:
 
  • Spot the early signs of mental ill-health
  • Raise awareness of the issue among staff and line managers
  • Develop a culture in which employees are comfortable about disclosing their condition
  • Approach a staff member who may have a condition and either help them cope or overcome it so that they can work effectively again.
 
“Managers are not expected to become professional counsellors. They should start by handling mental ill-health in the same way they would a physical illness – by focusing on good communication, becoming aware of the issues and empathising,” Taylor said.
 
They should also identify those factors that they could control – such as workloads, work variety and bullying – and those that they could not – like family relationships, addiction problems and bereavement and so something about the former.
 
Creating a supportive work environment in which people felt able to disclose their problems could also “help them to address their issues and remain productive at work”, but there may be times when it made sense to refer employees to specialist outside sources for help, Taylor said.
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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett
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