Put your hand up if you have ever thought about (or actually done) taking time off work when things have felt a bit too much! Everyone reading this must have, at some point, had a reason that they didn’t feel up to going to work due to stuff going on for them – I know I have! Be that a time of stress and anxiety linked to the job itself, or juggling personal trauma/circumstance whilst trying to keep life ticking along, or simply being at an unexplainable low point in life.
The discussion of mental health in the work place is becoming more common – and for good reasons. It was always a relevant conversation to have, but post-pandemic has encouraged it further with sharper rises in depression, anxiety and work related stress. Depression is ranked within the top 3 work problems, with depression and anxiety collectively accounting for 50% work related ill health.
The statistics vary depending on the source you read, but the general consensus is that employee symptoms of mental illness/poor mental health can negatively affect the workplace:
Absenteeism: Mental health is said to be the number one cause of employee’s calling in absent in the UK. With 12.7% of sickness absence days in the UK being directly attributed to mental health conditions (though often an employee will give a physical/different reason to explain their absence!)
Presenteeism: Now I have to admit that I have learnt a new word with this one!! Not all employees phone in sick when they don’t feel on top of their mental health, many will come in and battle on. However, this will have implications on their productivity levels and as such outcomes. Almost half of workers questioned have been in work despite not feeling up to it, and such feel their duties have not always been performed as well as they should.
Mind/body connection: There is evidence to support that those with poor mental health are at greater risk of poorer physical health (such as cardiovascular conditions, lung conditions, and diabetes) which can create bigger problems for absenteeism and presenteeism! Those experiencing any mental health concern (be that a diagnosis or something situational that is causing a negative impact on mental well being) are likely to engage in poor sleep patterns, unhealthy behaviours such as poor diet and increased smoking/drinking, or be suffering negative side effects of any medication they are taking to help alleviate anxiety/depression/etc. As such absenteeism and presenteeism may be accurately reported as a physical illness – but in fact have stemmed from poor mental health.
In recent research (MHFA England, 2022) up to 33% of employees asked said they would like more support from their employers in accessing help for mental health, the same source suggests that since 2019 there has been a 25% increase in annual costs brought to businesses due to mental health and that through investing in support for staff businesses will the financial benefit as it would bring a decrease in absenteeism, presenteeism (I’m not tired of my new word yet!) and cost implications of staff turnover.
In my work as a therapist, nearly all of my clients (that are either employed or self-employed) report in their earlier sessions that one* of the signs/factors that brought them to me was a that they had noticed an impact in their work due to how they felt mentally. In some cases the pressure of the job being a causal factor or in many other cases an external factor that they were struggling with was causing them to feel unable to maintain a successful meeting of demands at work.
*Not that this was the key reason for coming to therapy necessarily, but that it had been one of the few/many reasons they had decided to take action in seeking help.
So how can you help your employees, which in turn could help your business?
It is suggested that for every £1 spent on mental health support for staff companies could gain just over £5 in saved expenditure.
Many bigger companies buy into staff wellbeing packages that can give access to telephone therapy, but many studies have shown a preference from clients for face-to-face therapy. Having a local therapist that your employee sees can improve the outcome (and so value for money) of the sessions. By contributing to services like therapy for staff with your business you could reduce the level of staff absence, retain staff and their skills and as such reduce turnover, and improve staff morale. Investing in a course of therapy for a staff member (both in terms of financial cost and flexibility of time to attend) could actually save your company money as you need less HR resources in recruitment and/or training new and temporary staff, and of course productivity will increase.
There is also the case of a social responsibility for staff welfare and the link between staff receiving support and a lower of risk of grievance complaints being made against company management.
To go back to the title question of this piece, you could argue that it is not the job of the employer to pay for therapy for staff, BUT ….. There is a case to suggest that it would benefit all parties of staff, management and the business!