Businesses urged to address the mental health of employees

Businesses are increasingly being encouraged to improve workplace wellbeing. Photo: PA Photo/thinkst

Businesses are increasingly being encouraged to improve workplace wellbeing. Photo: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. - Credit: PA

A growing number of staff are suffering from mental health problems, so what are businesses doing to help? KATE ROYALL reports.

Tom Oxley, a corporate responsibility and communications adviser, who has reviewed the support avail

Tom Oxley, a corporate responsibility and communications adviser, who has reviewed the support available at 15 organisations. - Credit: Archant

The number of employees off work due to stress and mental health conditions is rising.

In 2014-15 the total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in Britain was 440,000, a rate of 1,380 per 100,000 workers, according to the Labour Force survey.

In the same period the total number of working days lost due stress, depression or anxiety was 9.9 million days, equating to an average of 23 days per case.

As a result, businesses are increasingly looking to improve workplace wellbeing.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

North Norfolk MP and former care minister Norman Lamb said: 'We know that good employers who have proper arrangements in place to support people who go through periods of poor mental health, can make an enormous difference in helping people get back to work.

'The interesting thing is that it's not just altruism by good employers, they know if they act properly and get support from organisations, it actually helps their bottom line.

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'It's good for the employee to have a supportive employer but also it helps the employer.

'It can stop people's health deteriorating and it can help profit.'

At the mental health charity Mind a WellBusiness team has been in place for more than 15 years to support organisational and individual mental health and wellbeing.

Their research has shown that 56pc of employers want to do more to improve staff wellbeing but do not feel they have the right training or guidance.

Ruth Taylor, head of community partnerships at Norwich and Central Norfolk Mind, said: 'We developed the WellBusiness service in response to requests from employers who reported members of staff with depression.'

Now the charity actively works with more than 200 different organisations in Norwich, north Norfolk, Broadland and south Norfolk to encourage employers to monitor stress and manage a healthy culture through a range of solutions.

One of the most popular services offered by the charity is the WellBusiness Workplace Audit where organisation-wide audits are carried out in order to make recommendations for best practice.

Miss Taylor said: 'Employers have to take it really seriously. You have to show you are doing things to help people stay at work.'

Norwich-based insurer Aviva provides employees with an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to help take the strain when extra support is needed.

The EAP service, which is available free of charge, provides a range of support for those who need it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

The confidential service offers access to impartial specialists on a range of work, financial, personal, family and relationship issues

The service is provided by Workplace Options, a provider of employee support services that is completely independent of Aviva.

Tom Oxley, a corporate responsibility and communications adviser, who has reviewed the support offered at 15 organisations, said: 'When companies get it right, their employees feel supported and return to work quicker.

'Getting mental health right is not an emotional decision, it's a business one.

'Companies are losing time, productivity and good people – all of which they could keep with a few simple steps. In fact, people who return from illness often return stronger and are able to help others.

'When companies talk about it, they crush the taboo. Then they can start educating people and changing the situation.

'Frankly, ignoring mental health problems in your workforce makes your workplace a dangerous one.'

Kaye Mason, HR advisor at community media publisher Archant, said it was important that businesses continued to learn from their staff.

The organisation runs an Employee Assistance Scheme which is confidential and offers advice from trained advisors who direct staff to the appropriate service for further help and support.

She said: 'The important thing for us is that we do not treat people differently, for us an employee with a mental health issue is no different to an employee with a physical illness such as a broken leg and we will support their return to work with a focused plan. We are always learning and what we learn from one case can help someone else down the line.'

In October the Eastern Daily Press launched its Mental Health Watch campaign. It aims to reduce the stigma around mental health issues, raise awareness as well as campaign for improved services in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Do you have a business story for the Eastern Daily Press? Contact business writer Kate Royall on 01603 772446 or email