Why employee mental health and wellbeing matters
One in four of us will experience a mental health issue of some kind each year according to mental health charity Mind, with common mental health problem affecting at least one in six in England any time. Given this, employers of all sizes have an important role to play in looking after employees’ mental health and wellbeing.
As well as helping employees by creating a supportive working environment, it also makes good business sense. Mental health problems can have a significant impact on individuals and their families but also on businesses and the UK economy.
The cost of mental health to UK businesses
Each year, around 17.5 million working days are lost as a result of mental health conditions, with 300,000 people with a long-term mental health falling out of work and onto benefits. The cost of poor mental health for UK employers is as much as £45bn a year, this is a rise of 16% since 2016 - an extra £6 billion a year. .
The analysis, which was conducted by Deloitte, breaks this figure down into £7bn in absence costs, £27bn to £29bn in presenteeism costs, and £9bn in staff turnover costs.
It’s also extremely likely that the situation has worsened. The Covid-19 pandemic has fuelled anxieties, led to isolation and loneliness and created much more uncertainty, with Mind labelling it a mental health emergency. GPs are also worried about how the pandemic will affect our mental health and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has warned of a ‘huge surge’ in people with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of Covid-19.
Employees also value mental health support in the workplace. Our research found that 53% of employees would be more likely to apply to an organisation that has a mental health and wellbeing policy in place, with this rising to 73% among 25-34-year olds. Research available here (131kb pdf).
As well as some compelling financial and business incentives, employers also have a legal responsibility to look after their employees’ mental health and wellbeing.
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states that it is ‘the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all his employees’.
Without a dedicated resource, and with everyone focused on the success of the business, this can make it much harder to provide the support that a colleague experiencing a mental health problem needs.
On top of this, the nature of an SME can exacerbate the problem. As they’re usually very lean, with each member of staff key, there’s much less opportunity to absorb someone’s workload if they’re absent or distracted. This additional pressure can have knock-on effects on colleagues’ mental health too.
Different business dynamics
Perhaps because they rarely have dedicated mental health resources or expertise, SMEs are also more likely to have a culture of silence than larger businesses. 88% of SME employees with poor mental health did not disclose these problems to either their line manager or HR. 
It could be argued that the size of an SME actually makes it easier to support an employee with a mental health problem. With fewer employees, and everyone potentially knowing one another, they’re better equipped to support each another through difficult times.
However, while this may be the case for some SMEs, there’s also evidence that employees in smaller organisations don’t have the formal tools to deal with their own and their colleagues’ mental health issues such as completing mental health training.
Making a change
Turning this around and providing employees with the mental health support and assistance they need, can seem like a daunting task, especially as businesses and individuals come to terms with the fallout from the pandemic.
But the good news is that an overnight transformation isn’t necessary. Even the smallest change in a company’s culture and mental health support can make a major difference to employees’ wellbeing. And, whether an SME is just starting to consider how they safeguard employees’ mental health, or has already begun to develop a strategy, there’s plenty of support and information to help SMEs at any stage of their mental health journey.
Find out more about how we can support the wellbeing of your business here.