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Managing mental health

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If one of your business’s employees were to take 10 days off with a mental health-related illness, how would it affect the rest of their team and the business as a whole?

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Those of you working for a big organisation might be shrugging right now – safe in the knowledge that one person’s workload could be absorbed across a department in the short-term, with minimal overall impact.

But what if that employee was part of a small team working for an SME?  It could be a very different outcome – one in which the fall-out could be catastrophic.

However, our research has revealed that the companies most at risk if an employee is absent are the least geared up to offer the help and support that might bring that employee back to work sooner, or even prevent them from taking time off in the first place.

Let’s take a look at the facts.

31.5% of all employees – no matter the size of the business – have taken time off work in relation to a mental health condition. Of those, 43.5% have taken more than 10 days off, with a further 18.1% taking between six and 10 days off.

And while mental health issues are very much on the agenda when it comes to corporate policy discussion, business media debate and conference topics, sadly the talk doesn’t appear to be translating into action at an operational level – and if it is, your employees aren’t always aware of it.

More than half of those surveyed said the company they work for either doesn’t have an official mental health policy (27.9%) or they aren’t aware of one (26.1%). When we questioned employees about whether their employer operates a ‘tick-box’ culture when it comes to mental health, a fifth (22.1%) of claimed that mental health is not a major concern to their employers. What’s more 45.6% of employees say they would seek alternative employment if they felt their employer didn’t provide support in relation to mental health conditions.

Those figures are startling enough, but when we drill down a little further it becomes clear that small and medium-sized companies are making themselves even more vulnerable to the effects of mental health-related absence.

Our research found that just 28.6% of employees working for small businesses and 46.3% for medium-sized companies, were aware of their current employer having an official mental health or workplace wellbeing policy. This compares to more than half (54.8%) of employees that work for large organisations.

While we always need to be careful not to jump to conclusions, the statistics seem to point to the fact that the lack of official mental health or wellbeing policies at smaller organisations is having a direct, negative effect on employee absences: 34.7% of people working for small businesses and 37% of those employed by medium-sized enterprises say they have taken time off for a mental health-related illness. This is in stark contrast to the 26.8% of those working for larger organisations who say they have taken time off.

The message is clear. While the temptation for those running SMEs is to focus on the day-to-day business of making a profit, if they don’t take employee mental health seriously, they could be adversely affecting the productivity of their workforce in the long term.

What can you do as a business leader?

But there are simple solutions. Creating a culture of openness in your business so employees feel they can talk to their managers and colleagues about any issues, helping your employees to prioritise their work-life balance, providing training for managers on mental health and wellness issues and creating a solid mental health policy – and making your employees aware of it – are important first steps you can take.

Offering access to a confidential, professional 24/7 helpline is another step that could limit, or even help to prevent a mental health-related absence by aiding communication and stopping life or work issues building up into something more serious.

Taking action now could not only safeguard the mental health of your employees, but your organisation’s profitability and long-term reputation as a good employer.

For more information about the impact of mental health conditions on your business, take a read of Benenden’s Mental Health Report here.

Helen Smith, Commercial Director and business sponsor for wellbeing strategy, Benenden

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