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This post is by Anthony Savage of Sparta Health

An analysis published in January this year found that poor mental health costs employers up to £45 billion each year (1). For decades, mental health was something not to be talked about in the workplace. People were expected to keep their troubles to themselves, and not to ask for anything from their employers to help them deal with their issues. However, times are changing. In the world of 2020, mental health is widely acknowledged to be an important aspect of one’s wellbeing, and with the negative impact that work stressors can have on employees’ mental state, it is imperative that workplaces evolve with the times and put into place scientifically-backed practices to protect the mental wellbeing of their employees.

One thing that can be done is to talk openly about mental health and emphasise its importance in the workplace. Although the public perception of mental illness is leagues better now than it’s ever been, there is still an air of stigma around the subject – in the US, only 41% of people with a mental health disorder received treatment in 2018 (2). Employers must talk to their employees and make it clear that there is no shame in asking for help, lest more people continue to work while silently shouldering such a burden.

Workplaces must also make a habit of prioritising work-life balance (WLB) in their employees’ lives. While this is not an obvious problem in many organisations, industries like investment banking are notorious for expecting their workers to put in 60+ hours weekly, be available at all times via telephone or e-mail, and regularly work weekends. The effect of WLB policies on mental health are clear: a 2011 study found there was a positive relationship between availability of scheduling control and WLB policies on the one hand, and job satisfaction and mental wellbeing on the other (3). While it may seem like having employees work as many hours as possible would be in the best interests of a business, a 2004 study found that WLB policies at the firm level provided “strong business benefits” (4). Hence, there is no reason for companies not to make WLB a priority.

There is also compelling evidence for the effectiveness of therapeutic intervention on employee mental health. One 2015 study found evidence for the potential of mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) in improving mental illness risks for employees with poor mental health (5). MBI draws from Eastern contemplative practices and includes two core components: self-regulating attention to be curious and open, and accepting one’s experience at the present moment. Combining the use of such intervention strategies with promotion of healthy practices such as meditation and exercise could be essential to maintaining a happy, mentally healthy workforce.

Adequate mental health training for those in managerial positions is another cornerstone of a healthy workplace environment. Managers must be able to recognise the warning signs of mental illness in their employees and take steps to help. A 2017 study published in The Lancet found that just a 4 hour mental health training program for managers could lead to a significant reduction in work-related sickness absence, with an associated return on investment of £9.98 for each pound spent (6). Therefore, such training schemes are not only beneficial for employees, but are also a good investment for the business.

Just because employers cannot immediately see the mental health struggles of their employees, it does not mean they are not there. Taking the steps outlined here could lead to a happier, healthier workplace, and benefit both the employees and the business’ prospects. Reviewing the evidence, one is drawn to the conclusion that there is almost no reason why companies should not take steps such as these, and the lack of these provisions in many organisations seems increasingly puzzling. Many workplaces pride themselves on the benefits they provide for physical health issues; now it’s time to give mental health the same spotlight.

About Anthony Savage 

Anthony Savage is the Medical Services Manager at Sparta Health, having joined the team in 2017 and is responsible for the overall operational delivery of our high quality services to our clients. He has a solid background in workplace physiology, as well over 12 years of delivering, and holding senior management positions, for leading injury and condition management providers.

He is known for his innovative approach in his design and execution of services and his ability to build enduring relationships.

References 

  1. Poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion a year [Internet]. Deloitte United Kingdom. [cited 2020 Aug 4]. Available from: https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/press-releases/articles/poor-mental-health-costs-uk-employers-up-to-pound-45-billion-a-year.html
  2. 5 Surprising Mental Health Statistics [Internet]. Mental Health First Aid. 2019 [cited 2020 Aug 1]. Available from: https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2019/02/5-surprising-mental-health-statistics/
  3. Jang SJ, Park R, Zippay A. The interaction effects of scheduling control and work–life balance programs on job satisfaction and mental health. International Journal of Social Welfare. 2011;20(2):135–43.
  4. Yasbek P. The Business Case for Firm-Level Work-Life Balance Policies: a review of the literature. :25.
  5. Huang S-L, Li R-H, Huang F-Y, Tang F-C. The Potential for Mindfulness-Based Intervention in Workplace Mental Health Promotion: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial. PLOS ONE. 2015 Sep 14;10(9):e0138089.
  6. Milligan-Saville JS, Tan L, Gayed A, Barnes C, Madan I, Dobson M, et al. Workplace mental health training for managers and its effect on sick leave in employees: a cluster randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2017 Nov 1;4(11):850–8.
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About Sparta Health

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