October 9, 2017

Spotlight on workplace wellbeing for World Mental Health Day | 10 October 2017

workplace wellbeing

Why should you be concerned about workplace wellbeing?

The recent statistics bring workplace wellbeing into sharp focus:

  • The Centre for Mental Health estimate that the total annual cost of mental health problems at work is over £30 billion.
  • It is estimated that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year.
  • Nearly 1 in 7 people experience mental health problems in the workplace.
  • In 2016, 137,000,000  working days were lost due to sickness or injury in the UK.

Mental health issues are receiving more attention than ever before as it is recognised that most people have either personally experienced it or know someone close to them that has.

So what are your obligations as an employer?

Employers have duties to assess the risk of stress related ill health arising from work activities and to take measures to control that risk.

  • There is an implied contractual duty of mutual trust and confidence. Failing to manage mental ill health correctly could result in a breach of this.
  • An employer has obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to prevent disability discrimination and make reasonable adjustments.
  • An employee with 2 years service or more has the right not to be unfairly dismissed due to their mental health issues.
  • There is a duty to provide a safe place and system of work – and to prevent a reasonably foreseeable risk of physical and mental injury to an employee.

Spotting the signs

Mental health problems affect people in different ways. The Mental Health Foundation identifies four common signs in the workplace:

  1. emotional: employees may seem irritable, sensitive to criticism, seem to lose their sense of humour.
  2. cognitive: an employee may make more mistakes than usual, indecisiveness and an inability to concentrate. Look out for sudden or unusual decreases in performance.
  3. behavioural: begins arriving late, taking unofficial days off, not hitting deadlines and generally acting out of character.
  4. business: looking at the bigger picture, consider whether there have been increased absences or staff turnover. Has there been a general drop in motivation or productivity levels?

Remember! Spotting some of these signs does not automatically mean there is an underlying mental health issue. Instead understanding the signs and talking to employees will mean you are taking proactive steps to support workplace wellbeing.

Preventing absence

It may not always be possible to identify the cause of the mental health issue, but creating an open and supportive culture helps in prevention:

  • have a Mental Health Policy which supports this culture
  • use internal communication such as staff newsletters to educate on mental health issues and their impact
  • anonymous staff surveys are useful in checking wellbeing, stress levels and generally how people are feeling.
  • make sure your working practices embody good mental health. Encourage staff to take breaks and get out of the office to reduce stress.
  • train your managers on mental health issues to spot uncharacteristic behaviour and feel comfortable when faced with mental health related problems.

Tip: create a peer-to-peer support system so that employees can talk with colleagues of the same level about their concerns. These peers should be trained to give informal advice and general chats.

When staff are absent

Remember to keep in touch with staff so that they don’t feel disengaged from the workplace. However be careful not to be overbearing or intrusive. It is important to balance concern, support and maintaining sufficient distance so the employee does not feel pressured.

When staff come back to work

Be flexible in your approach. Tailor your return to work plans to help ease employees back into the workplace. Phasing employees back to work can be less intimidating.

Have a return to work interview which is handled sensitively. These can be informal and can be just a few minutes long; but ensure that you are having those consistent conversations so that the employee isn’t coming back too early.


  • Focus on culture: be confident and comfortable talking about mental health.
  • Have a specific and effective Mental Health Policy.
  • Good mental health is vital for business performance.
  • People who feel autonomous and in control over their work are happier and more engaged.
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