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Why ignoring mental health is bad for business (and what you can do about it)

The average adult spends roughly one-third of their lives at work. It’s hardly surprising then that according to the Mental Health at Work 2018 Report, 61% of employees have experienced mental health issues due to work or where work was a related factor. With a recent TUC analysis reporting that Brits work the longest hours in the EU, it’s easy to see why work has such a significant bearing on our mental state – and why we’re becoming a nation overwhelmed by stress.


The association between work and wellbeing is becoming increasingly obvious; despite this, the Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers reveals that only 39% of organisations have policies or systems in place to support employees with common mental health conditions.


Bad for business


Supporting employees’ mental health is not only a moral obligation; it makes smart business sense. Poor mental health is now the number one cause of staff absences in the UK, resulting in a staggering 91 million work days lost. According to the Centre for Mental Health, mental-health-related absenteeism costs the economy £8.4 billion per annum.

Conversely, the right support can improve retention and reduce costs. According to a study by Ieso Digital Health, for every £1 employers invest in mental health training programmes, they can see a return of up to £10.

5 tips for managing employee mental health


Fortunately, poor mental health is often preventable. There are a number of steps you can take to promote employee wellbeing.


  1. Promote an open-door policy

Unfortunately, a survey by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has indicated that mental health remains a “taboo” subject in the workplace, with just one in ten employees comfortable enough to talk to their manager about a mental health condition.

It’s therefore important to have clear and well-defined communication channels and to create a workplace culture where employees feel they can ask for support without being ridiculed, subjected to unfair treatment or marginalised. By opening the conversation and showing that you are sympathetic and willing to listen, you can encourage positive action and minimise the risks of long absences or losing staff.

  1. Carry out return to work interviews

If an employee takes frequent, short-term absences, a return to work interview will provide an opportunity to explore the reasons for the absence, check how the employee is feeling, and confirm they are fit to return to their role. If there are signs that the employee is suffering from a mental health condition, explore what practical steps can be taken to assist them.

You should:

  • Ask the employee what the reason for their absence was.
  • If it was due to stress, ask what may be causing that stress.
  • If the stress is caused by work, consider whether or not it’s possible to alleviate that stress. For example, if they feel they have too much on their plate, you could consider ways to reduce their workload.
  • If the stress is caused by other factors, ask whether there is anything that you can do to help.
  1. Watch out for the signs

Holding regular one-to-one meetings or conversations with employees and keeping an eye on changes in behaviour may allow you to pick up on certain red flags. For example, you may notice that they’re smoking more, their appetite has changed, they’re making uncharacteristic mistakes, they seem more withdrawn, or they’re reacting differently to people or certain situations. Any of these should prompt a conversation, which you should approach in a tactful and supportive way.

  1. Stay connected during periods of absence

If short-term sickness evolves into longer-term absence, keep lines of communication open. Maintaining regular contact will keep you informed of the employee’s progress and determine whether there’s anything you can do to assist them back to work, such as a phased return. If a return doesn’t look likely in the near future, temporary arrangements can be made.

However, while it’s important that the employee must not feel cut off, they shouldn’t feel harassed by frequent calls or visits. If they’re suffering from anxiety or stress, the last thing you want is for your contact to exacerbate their condition and prolong their recovery.

  1. Invest in training

Mental health training is often not treated with the same importance as other forms of health and safety or absence management training – possibly due to stigma, and possibly because mental health issues often go under the radar. However, without proper training, managers may struggle to identify issues within their teams and miss opportunities for early intervention. Investing in training will enable managers to approach issues more confidently and equip them with practical solutions that will not only support employee wellbeing but also reduce absence rates and increase productivity.

Need advice?

Bira Legal offer advice on managing mental health to Bira members. Find out more about this service or contact Bira Legal on 0345 450 0937 or email

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