Mental health is clearly an important concern for all employers who wish to promote the wellbeing of their employees. UK employers are now facing costs of up to £45 billion per year because of their employees’ poor mental health, making this an important area for investment. This figure was revealed in the “Mental health and employers: Refreshing the case for investment” report published earlier this year by Deloitte and mental health charity Mind.

The price paid by employers resulting from inadequate mental health support has been increasing over the past few years. For employees aged 18 – 29 years old, employers lose the equivalent of 8.3% of their salaries through the costs associated with their poor mental health. There are also other indirect effects which the Report identifies, such as the adverse impact on creativity, innovation and other employees.

What causes these costs? Deloitte and Mind have identified two main contributing factors: not even the sickness absence itself, but (i) an increase in the prevalence of mental ill health which can lead to a higher turnover of staff, and (ii) “presenteeism.” Presenteeism describes the situation of people working whilst they are ill and so they are not performing at their full ability. Instead of taking some necessary time off, more people are choosing to carry on working even if this is done remotely. The estimated costs of mental health presenteeism are an astonishing three-and-a-half times those associated with mental health-related absence. Therefore, despite falling absence levels, employers are actually worse off. So although it may seem counter-intuitive to encourage employees to take more time off as sickness absence, this may lead to a more productive and happier workforce in the medium to longer term.

“Leaveism” was identified as another modern working issue which can play a part in employees’ mental ill health. This is the feeling of being obliged to work outside normal working hours and can involve working during holidays and rest days to keep up or catch up with one’s workload. The use of technology in the workplace has contributed to this as it can encourage a detrimental “always on” working culture.

Investing in employees’ mental health is essential to improving workplace culture and may provide financial returns. On average, the return on investment for employers who invest in the mental health of their employees was £5 for every £1 spent. Although it can be difficult in a demanding professional environment to make significant changes to employees’ working hours, the Report shows that a small amount of investment can go a long way.

Recommendations for Employers

  • Set clear and stricter boundaries between work and personal time by encouraging employees to take their annual leave and “switch off”. This can be achieved by redistributing work and hiring more people as workloads increase. This is easy to say, but must be manifested in practice as well. If the reality is that the business still favours the staff who do most work, drop fewest balls when away, are most responsive to urgent out-of-hours queries etc., the pressure to act in that way will remain, regardless of what HR may say about the importance of self-care, mindfulness and the rest. Hiring extra staff costs more and may not be a good investment if the high workload is possibly only temporary. There may times in most professional roles where what should be rest/leisure time is eaten into by work and that by itself is not a problem. In our experience a substantial part of the issue is not that encroachment or the hours by themselves but a failure by more senior management to recognise, appreciate and reward that level of effort. A little tangible acknowledgement can go a long way to increase resilience.
  • Tackle the stigma surrounding mental health and encourage open conversations in the workplace. This, by definition, is less easy to say, but many commentators in the area say that much good can be done simply by asking your employees how they are.
  • Improve awareness of mental health issues by running targeted training sessions.