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Mental Health in the Workplace: World Mental Health Awareness Day 2017

The 10th of October is World Mental Health Day, sponsored by the World Health Organisation (WHO), with mental health in the workplace being this year’s theme. On this topic the WHO say:

Employers and managers who put in place workplace initiatives to promote mental health and to support employees who have mental disorders see gains not only in the health of their employees but also in their productivity at work.

Business in the Community (BITC) have also just released their Mental Health at Work report for 2017 which reports some arresting findings. For example: “three out every five employees (60%) have experienced mental health issues in the past year because of work”, and “almost a third (31%) of the workforce have been formally diagnosed with a mental health issue”.

Perhaps most alarming however is that just 11% disclosed their mental health issue to their line manager.
That says a lot about the lack of workplace inclusion in the UK.

This research reminds me of a Deloitte report from late-2013 that looked at “covering” in the context of workplace inclusion. Covering has several dimensions (appearance-based, affiliation-based, advocacy-based, and association-based), however in this context is most easily understood as the ways that people choose to disguise aspects of themselves so as to “fit in”. Their research found that an incredible 61% of the workforce in their sample “covered” at work.

There are communities of people that one would expect to cover (though of course that does not make it acceptable) for example women, women of colour, blacks, and LGB people. Interestingly however a surprising 45% of straight white men also cover; a community of our workforces for which covering would not stereotypically be expected.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, given the above, mental health is one of the factors that people seek to cover. The practice of covering was cited as being detrimental to people’s sense of self; likely to also present mental health challenges.

So what does this mean for business leaders?

  1. Inclusion is not just about those who are different. Think about inclusion as being a critical consideration for all of the people in your workforce. Also, an inclusion improvement for one group of people is often of benefit to others; for example, flexible working tools and scheduling for working parents can benefit those with temporary or variable illnesses.
  2. Recognise that, as well as being the right thing to do, there’s a business imperative too. Absenteeism of any kind has a bottom line impact – it reduces productivity, increases the likelihood of needing expensive interim staff, and can burden company funded employee health care schemes. If the individual decides to work on through without the benefit of your company’s support there could be productivity issues and performance management complications. If the individual ultimately decides to leave then there will be the costs of finding a replacement and lost productivity whilst the new person is being inducted. There is also the possible impact on colleagues and wider business productivity too.

Workplace inclusion is serious business. Getting it wrong can have serious implications. Leave no one behind.

Contact me to discuss these or related topics, via Twitter and LinkedIn

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