4 April 2017 | Kamile Stankute
It is not always easy to talk about mental health.
While we are used to sharing our physical discomforts with colleagues - everyone can relate to a headache or a sore leg - individuals tend to be less open about the mental distress they may be experiencing. Yet it is fair to say that 'well-being' in the workplace is no longer limited to physical health.
Over the past decade, technology has radically changed our assumptions of what constitutes work. Work and 'life' have become increasingly more integrated and the expectation to be reachable at all times has become a common cause of stress. The government has rightfully moved mental health up the agenda in recent years. Businesses now have an important role to play too.
So why is mental health such an important issue that individuals running a workplace should be aware of?
· Official statistics suggest that 127 million hours of work were lost in 2015 due to mental health-related absence. The number of days taken off work has increased 25 per cent year on year, and stress, depression and anxiety taken together rank as the largest reason for absence in the workplace.
· Even when individuals aren't taking time off due to poor mental health, it's affecting their work - more than six in 10 of the UK's working population report that they've been kept awake at night by stress, leaving them unable to perform their duties as well as they might, according the Mental Health Foundation.
· Inadequate mental health can result in poor quality of work, poor decision-making, conflict with colleagues and higher staff turnover, according to a survey of IoD members.
· The OECD estimates that our failure to cope adequately with mental health issues costs the UK some 5 per cent of GDP.
Mental health is in many regards the last great taboo and employers can play a critical role in driving the cultural shift necessary to turn the corner. While many large companies now employ in-house therapists and psychologists for their staff, smaller firms - that constitute the majority in the UK economy - understandably haven't got such resources. There are many ways to address somebody with mental health problems, whether that's offering flexible working or referring them to a specialist. Nevertheless, initiating more conversation about mental health is the right way to start and this is where employers and management have a crucial role to play. It is now time to talk.
Kamile Stankute is parliamentary affairs officer at the Institute of Directors