Mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and unmanageable stress affect one-in-six British workers in any given year.
Absence and lost productivity caused by mental ill health costs British businesses between £33bn and £42bn a year.
And research suggests the problem is growing.
Almost 30% of businesses have seen an increase in the number of staff taking time off for mental health reasons while a similar proportion report an increase in the length of time that staff are absent.
The findings come from a survey of 1,020 businesses carried out in May for the British Chambers of Commerce – to which Cumbria Chamber of Commerce is affiliated – and the UK’s largest insurer Aviva.
Rob Johnston, Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber, said: “It is crucial for businesses to pay close attention to the health and wellbeing of employees – especially when firms are facing challenges finding and retaining staff.
“While many businesses are aware of mental health concerns, and act accordingly, too many turn a blind eye. This is an issue that saps productivity, morale and individual wellbeing.
Click here to listen to our podcast and download Mind’s guide for employers and its action plans for line managers and employees
“This is something we’ve been highlighting at Cumbria Chamber for some time. Earlier this year, we recorded a podcast with Caroline Robinson of the mental health charity Mind, and I’d urge businesses to listen to that.
“It is no longer acceptable to ignore mental health in the workplace – all businesses need to step up their game.”
The British Chambers’ survey suggests that businesses are becoming more aware of mental health and that the topic is less of a taboo than it once was.
Employers are supporting staff by reviewing individual workloads (36%), offering flexible working options (35%), organising counselling (20%) and training managers to offer better support to staff (18%).
However, the research suggests that businesses could do more. Nearly half (49%) of those surveyed did not access occupational health support for staff from external bodies and 10% were unaware such support existed.
Rob said: “The Chamber offers member businesses a Health Care and Wellbeing Plan to offer staff as part of an employee benefits’ package.
“The package includes a counselling and advice line. Significantly, 44.7% of calls to this service are related to mental health.”
To find out more about the Health and Wellbeing Plan, click here or call us on 0845 226 0040.
Rob added: “Tackling mental health concerns need not break the bank. Reviewing workloads, considering flexible working and improving the skills of managers are simple measures that can help build a happier and more productive workforce.”
Indeed, Aviva’s claims’ data suggest that swift action in tackling mental health problems can save businesses money.
Dr Doug Wright, the insurer’s Medical Director, said: “It is worrying to see almost a third of businesses have seen an increase in people taking time off for mental health reasons.
“Whilst some of this increase may be down to staff feeling more able to discuss the issue, it suggests that more can be done to help.
“Looking at our claims data for protection insurance we know that mental health conditions are the number one reason for rehabilitation referrals, and that early intervention by experts can bring a huge benefit to employees, helping them make a safe and timely return to work.
“It is therefore important to look at what health and wellbeing initiatives are on offer to staff to make sure they have a breadth of options to support them.
“Doing so will reap rewards for both employee and employer. We believe in this so much it’s something we are doing for our own staff already.”