Employment relations specialist Acas has launched a new guide to tackle what it describes as the last taboo in business – mental illness at work.
According to the Centre for Mental Health charity, a total of 91 million work days are lost to mental ill health every year although the lost days account for only half the £30 billion annual cost of reduced productivity. The remainder are due to employees coming to work when unwell and not performing at their best.
Acas chief executive John Taylor said: “Many employers and managers shy away from dealing with mental illness at work because it can be hard to pin down and it is a very sensitive matter to deal with.
“But we all need to develop a new way of looking at mental health and break down the taboo. There needs to be a willingness to discuss mental health and a culture where employers understand it and try to help their employees recover from mental illness.
“Our mental well-being is as much a part of health as our physical health. And we need to take into consideration that one in four of us will suffer a mental health problem at some point in our lives.”
Advice for employers in managers in the Acas guide includes how to:
- spot early the signs of mental ill health
- raise awareness of mental health issues among managers and staff
- approach an employee who may have a mental health condition
- try to help them cope with it or overcome it so they can work effectively again.
Mr Taylor said employers and managers could help by identifying aspects of working life they can assist with, such as workloads, communication, bullying and strategies for the employee to cope at work.
He added: “There can be circumstances outside an employer’s control, such as childhood experiences, family relationships, addiction problems and bereavement. However, an employer, by creating a supportive environment at work where people feel able to disclose their problems, can help them address their issues and remain productive at work.
“Also, there may be times when an employer will need to refer an employee to outside, specialist sources for help and advice.”
Acas has compiled the guide with NHS agency Workways, which specialises in advising on dealing with mental ill-health at work.