Mental health at work – it’s time for senior management to act

In a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) survey of 800 companies, 98% of respondents said they thought that the mental health of employees should be a company concern. In addition, 81% said that concern for the mental health of staff should be part of company policy.

However, less than 1 in 10 of these had an official policy on mental health in their company.

How can senior decision makers deal with stress?
Employers have a legal duty of care towards their employees, and although mental health hasn’t received much attention in the past, lost employment constitutes 37% of the total cost of mental ill-health in England (£11 billion). Stress-related sickness absence cost an estimated £4 billion annually, according to Mental Health.

Stress-related sickness absence cost an estimated £4 billion annually

Such figures highlight the importance of more focus from senior business leaders, but can such a costly and complex problem as mental health among their employees be solved? Here are two examples from HSE’s case studies of work place stress:

  1. QVC


QVC – the UK TV shopping channel – is a non-unionised organisation with more than 2,000 employees and a 24 hours-a-day operation. In an effort to reduce stress, HSE secured senior management commitment by briefing the team to ensure they understood the need for, and the benefits of, a mental health initiative.

The challenge they faced was that some people were sceptical about tracking work-related stress, and explaining the difference between pressure and stress. They therefore implemented a strategy to reduce stress by redesigning the appraisal documentation, which encouraged more discussion about the manager’s style and behaviour.

This provided them with guidelines to de-mystify stress by linking it to every day scenarios. Afterwards, 70% said the programme had a positive influence upon their health awareness.

  1. Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust


People working in the health care industry are statistically more likely to suffer from stress. The Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust, with 4,600 employees, therefore chose to work to identify ‘hot spots’ that needed stress risk assessment interventions. Extensive training for managers explaining the links between well-being and effectiveness also helped them think more about how organisational problems were handled, and to conduct ‘difficult conversations’ with their staff.

The result of improved communicating increased employee commitment and increased well-being – individuals feel valued after using s psychology consultancy service provided by the employer. A manager who used the service said: “It gave me control on how things are and helped me distinguish between those things I can have some influence on and those I don’t have the ability to change”.

Consultants advise to ensure health and safety
Managing partner at health & safety consultancy Arinite, Bryan Richards, emphasises that in the past, stress was usually mistakenly considered to be a weakness among the employee and not a fault in management style. Therefore, creating that awareness and a health and safety policy is necessary to put the spotlight towards the problem.

He says, “a H&S policy should:

  • give management commitment to encouraging a supportive culture where colleagues assist each other to ease peaks in workload;
  • recognise the need to assess work activities that may be more stressful, so that an action plan can be implemented.
  • ensure that staff are properly resourced and trained to undertake their role, and that the personnel selection process matches individuals to the demands of each job function.”

In 2014/15, almost half (45.3%) of the estimated 516,000 people with illnesses declared in the past year believed it was caused or made worse by workplace stress, according to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). It’s time for senior management to do something about it.

Sunniva Naess writes about health and safety and the dangers of not having proper procedures in place on behalf of Arinite. She can be found tweeting @SunnivaNess.sunniva-headshot