Beware bosses — staff mental health can affect your bottom line

Alison Unsted is chief executive of the City Mental Health Alliance UK

The extreme experience of the past two years — from the pandemic and lockdowns to financial uncertainty and important conversations about race — have put mental health and wellbeing firmly on the boardroom agenda. For the good of people, business, and wider society, it needs to stay there.

At the CMHA, our vision is that every business protects, supports, and creates positive health for their people. This is the right thing to do for your people. But it is clearly the business-critical thing to do too.

Let’s not be shy about saying that what is good for your people is also good for the bottom line. Deloitte analysis from earlier this year revealed the impact of poor mental health on UK employers; It cost the private sector around £45bn in 2020/2021 due to absenteeism and presenteeism, while employers can see a return of £5.30 on average for every £1 invested in workplace mental health.

Workplace mental health is also relevant for recruiting and retaining future talent – ​​a recent CMHA early careers reportcommissioned in partnership with Bupa, found that 47% of young professionals said that one of the most important things they would look for in a future employer is whether it would prioritise mental health.

Therefore, business leaders must apply themselves to the challenge of poor mental health as they would any other threat to their business. If there was an IT problem costing them millions and hurting productivity, the leadership team would take action and invest.

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But what does structured and sustainable action look like? There is no single intervention that will work on its own, so we recommend that businesses develop a mental health and wellbeing strategy underpinned by three key pillars.

The first pillar is to create a culture of wellbeing and psychological safety. This includes raising mental health awareness and challenging stigma, with visible commitment from senior leadership.

The second pillar is focused on developing a mentally healthy working environment. This includes providing mental health literacy training to your people, especially line managers. It also includes reviewing job design and resources, to mitigate any risks to psychological health, such as chronic stressors such as consistent long hours or lack of autonomy.

The third pillars relates to providing and signposting to mental health resources and support. This is about offering and flagging wellbeing support and interventions that are available, offering appropriate adjustments to anyone who requires them, providing access to employer-funded services such as an Employee Assistance Program.

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Importantly, any mental health and wellbeing strategy should be inclusive of a diverse employee base. It must be designed to meet the diverse needs of the people it serves, including people who are Black or from a minority ethnic background, LGBT+, neurodiverse or living with certain health conditions. It should also include the entire workforce, not just people sitting at desks or ‘fee-earners’, but also the often unseen yet essential workforce – the security guards, cleaners and maintenance staff who keep our businesses running.

Right now, most businesses are on a journey to supporting positive mental health for employees. At the same time, they are reframing ways of working post-pandemic. This combination presents businesses with a real opportunity to rebuild our businesses, with mental health and wellbeing sitting at the centre. Businesses that get this right will reap the rewards. Businesses that don’t have the consequences.

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