Mental ill health affects us all in one way or another. Whether personally or professionally, at home or work, through friends or family, an increasing number of people are directly or indirectly confronted by mental health issues. According to the Mental Health Foundation, at least one in four British adults will experience some kind of mental health problem each year, with anxiety and depression being the most common. More broadly, one in six working UK adults experienced episodes related to a common mental disorder in the past week. To put this in context, that is 10 times the number of people who attend professional football matches every weekend. An episode can manifest itself in: depression, stress and physical symptoms, for example migraines and other forms of sickness. It can strike at all organisational levels from the most senior person to those with less significant responsibilities. The business case for workplace interventions is compelling. The cost to British employers of mental health-related issues has been estimated at £26 billion per year or, on average, £1,035 per employee.
With many of us spending up to 60 per cent of our waking hours at work, many psychological stressors can emerge in the workplace. The Workplace Wellbeing Index by Mind, involving 15,000 employees from 30 organisations, found that 26 per cent of employees describe their mental health as poor and attributed it to work. However, of those individuals who had disclosed poor mental health at work (2,200 employees), only 53 per cent said that they felt supported, yet 73 per cent of managers said that they would feel confident in supporting a member of staff experiencing a mental health problem. This discrepancy is concerning.
If these issues are not prevented or effectively managed, they can have a severe impact on individual, team and organisational performance and productivity. One of the principal reported issues is the emergence of costly and time-consuming conflict at work. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Employee Out look Survey (2011) shows that stress is now the number one cause of long-term absence (four weeks or longer) for both manual and non-manual workers and the second biggest cause of workplace conflict (after personality clashes). The impact of conflict at work is striking and often felt beyond the individuals in dispute. On average, the CIPD estimates that employees spend on average one day per month dealing with conflict and 37 per cent of those with poor mental health reporting that it had affected their performance as a result of being more likely to get into conflict with others.
So what can be done? One of the core drivers of employee engagement and well-being is good quality people management which can assist in closing the gap between how managers feel they support their staff compared with how that support is received. The CIPD and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance emphasises, amongst other activities, the importance of managers utilising mediation-related skills to build relationships where employees feel that they can have difficult conversations and share their feelings without being stigmatised. However, good line management cannot operate in a vacuum; it requires strategic leadership to create and nurture an organisational culture based on respect and openness.