Mental health problems affect one in six workers in the UK every year according to charity Mind, and the cost to the UK economy is somewhere between £74 billion and £99 billion a year. So, it comes as no surprise that increasing numbers of employers are looking at their role in staff wellbeing and introducing mental health training.
Staff are arguably a business’ most important assets – happy, well-adjusted employees will not only be more productive, but will take less days off sick, be more motivated and act as brand ambassadors for your business. However, if you have a large number of workers suffering from mental health issues such as depression, then productivity can nose dive, employee turnover can increase and ultimately your bottom line will take a hit.
Why is mental health training in the workplace important?
There have been a lot of high-profile campaigns which have raised awareness of mental health in the public consciousness. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge along with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been prominent supporters of the Heads Together mental health initiative, for example. However, there is a still plenty of stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace and people don’t want to admit they're struggling due to the fear of being treated differently.
Far too often, mental health still falls under the radar and is sometimes seen as less important than other health and safety aspects. Managers without training may struggle to spot problems early on because they are simply unaware. Things like depression, anxiety and stress work on a sliding scale and can start off relatively mild or be mistaken for simple poor performance, but will escalate without intervention. Training is vital because it helps employers to better understand when a member of staff is struggling and in need of help.
It’s not about turning managers into pseudo therapists but rather helping them to spot problems early on and offer appropriate support because poor mental health can impact employee productivity and performance.
Mental health: employer’s duty of care
As an employer you owe a duty of care to your staff to take all reasonable steps to ensure their health, wellbeing and safety. This covers both physical and mental health. But it’s not just a legal duty, it’s good business practice to make sure your staff are looked after – it demonstrates a commitment to them and helps build trust and loyalty between you and them. If staff feel looked after and cared for, they’re far more likely to be loyal to your company, naturally act as brand ambassadors and work harder than if they feel like they’re left to get on with it with no pastoral support.
Your employer duty of care extends to ensuring you support employees with pre-existing health issues and disabilities and do what you can to prevent new ones developing. This naturally extends to mental as well as physical health too.
Different options for training
There are a number of different organisations running mental health training courses to help raise awareness in the workplace, many in partnership with Government initiatives to tackle the issues.
- Thriving at Work was initiated by charity Mind in partnership with the Government. It sets out six core mental health standards that all employers should implement to promote positive mental health. It also outlines enhanced standards for ambitious employers who wish to lead the way. The guide encourages businesses to adopt the standards, provides advice on how to do so and explains what the benefits are.
- Mental Health First Aid (England) was set up in the UK in 2007 after being developed in Australia. It was launched by the Department of Health as part of its drive to improving national mental health. The organisation has since delivered thousands of training courses, much like you would expect physical first aid courses to be, to organisations around the country.
- ACAS has created a framework for positive mental health in the workplace. The organisation encourages businesses to understand the importance of mental health, the reasons why people suffer and what you can do about it.
How you can implement mental health training in the workplace
- Lead from the top down – In order for mental health initiatives to be normalised you need to show support at every level. This means everyone from owners and board directors to senior managers shop floor staff needs to be on board with any training you decide to implement.
- Create a mental health at work plan – According to statistics only 6% of employees would take a sick day because of mental health, compared to 20% for a physical illness. But organisations are realising good mental health is good for business. A specific plan will detail the support on offer for employees and provide a framework in which all your staff can operate.
- Ask your staff – Designing any plan with your workers’ input will give it greater weight and mean they feel like they have a vested interested in it. It builds commitment and support for any such plan across the entire workplace.
- Create a mental health support hierarchy – Everyone in your business should be involved with training but it’s a good idea to have a plan in place for who is responsible overall for training, who delivers training to all workers and how its effectiveness is monitored. You might have overall responsibility as the boss, but it may be your HR department that is tasked with implementing training while line managers take responsibility for their individual teams.