Most employers take the physical safety of their employees very seriously. Health and safety is a big deal and employers will ensure that their buildings are well constructed, employees’ chairs are comfortable (and appropriately adjusted) and there is nothing that is hazardous in the workplace. Can you imagine an employer creating an unsafe, hazardous workplace, with huge pits in the floor and lights spontaneously falling from the ceiling but then just giving employees information on how to avoid the pits and falling lights? Of course, the law wouldn’t allow this – but even then, you just couldn’t imagine any employer would think that was the right thing to do…and yet, when it comes to mental health, it is exactly what many employers are doing. 

The prevalence of mental health problems is highest in the UK population amongst those that are of working age (aged 16-64) (1). It is estimated that 15% of those employed in the UK have symptoms of a mental health condition (2). Workplaces are now starting to take mental health more seriously, measures that they are taking include:

- reducing the stigma around mental health;

- encouraging discussions on mental health;

- sharing mental health stories and increasing awareness of mental health conditions;

- equipping individuals with tools to manage their mental health; and

- supporting those with mental health conditions.

Whilst this is great, incredibly useful and completely necessary – enabling employees to “jump over those mental health pits” and avoid those “falling mental health lights” and supporting them once they have fallen into a pit or been hit by a flying light – why are employers not doing more to make the workplace itself more safe when it comes to mental health?

Workplaces play a large role in causing poor mental health in the UK. The Health and Safety Executive’s 2016/17 labour force survey indicates that 12.5 million working days are lost due to poor mental health caused by work-related stressors (3). A survey of over 3,000 British workers conducted by Perkbox highlights that “Work is the most common cause of stress for UK adults” (4). Causes of work related stress include:

- lack of control over workload and workflow;

- bullying or poor treatment in the workplace;

- long working hours; and

- lack of support at work.

Organisations could start doing many things to change workplace culture to improve mental health. Steps that firms could start taking include:

- encouraging agile working and giving employees back control over how, where and when they work;

- ensuring work allocation in the organisation is fair;

- creating a culture where individuals are not encouraged to work long hours;

- encouraging senior team members to manage the expectations of clients so that unreasonable demands are not placed on employees (who have to work through the night or over weekends just to get things done);

- not expecting employees to always reply to work emails outside of working hours;

- encouraging all employees to have a work/life balance; and

- showing employees that they are supported in the work that they do.

In order to encourage better mental health in the workplace a group of organisations in the financial services sector has recently launched the Mindful Business Charter. By signing up to this charter these organisations have committed to change their working practices to encourage better mental health and reduce workplace stressors. 

I mean it is great to learn how to avoid falling into pits and dodge falling lights from the ceiling – but if employers can get rid of the pits and replace those lights …shouldn’t they start to do so? 

(1) Fundamental Facts about mental health 2016 [Internet]. Mental Health Foundation. 2018 [cited 2018 May 12]. Available from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/fundamental-facts-about-mental-health-2016

(2) Thriving at Work, The Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers. UK Government. 2018 [cited 2018 May 12]. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/658145/thriving-at-work-stevenson-farmer-review.pdf

(3) Work-related Stress, Depression or Anxiety Statistics in Great Britain 2017. Health and Safety Executive. 2017 [cited 2018 May 12]. Available from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/stress.pdf

(4) The 2018 UK Workplace Stress Survey. Perkbox. 2018 [cited 2018 May 12]. Available from: https://pages.perkbox.com/rs/244-RYY-693/images/2018-Workplace-Stress-Survey.pdf