Workplace protection must focus more on mental health

Workplace protection must focus more on mental health

Workplace protection plans must support employees' mental health as being employed gives people with these issues a sense of wellbeing, routine and identity, research has found.

Research by The Mental Health Foundation, Oxford Economics and Unum has revealed the workplace is a key factor in supporting and protecting mental health.

According to the study, many people with mental health problems want to be at work and they value the role it plays in their lives.

In August, YouGov was commissioned by Unum to carry out an online survey of 1,000 people with experience of mental health problems in work, and 1,000 people with line management responsibilities.

Some 86 per cent of those surveyed said their job and being at work was important to protecting and maintaining their mental health.

Moreover, they noted that work has a positive influence on their recovery, wellbeing, self-esteem, social connectedness and identity, and even when they identified the stress they experienced at work was related to the impact of their mental health problem, they noted work was still a necessary element of their lives, providing a routine as well as their source of income.

Conversely, sickness absence or taking time away from work was considered a last resort for most individuals.

For those with mental health conditions, returning to work following an absence or periods of being unwell was necessary and beneficial for their own wellbeing.

Liz Walker, director of human resources at Unum, said: "Recognising the important role work has on mental health should encourage employers to view the mental health of their workforce as an asset.

"Working can provide a sense of identity, build self-esteem and provide an opportunity for healthy social interactions. Employers benefit greatly from engaged employees and the diversity of perspectives that a lived mental health condition brings."

A study by Oxford Economics, available in the appendix of Unum’s Mental Health report, showed the value added to the overall British economy by people with mental health problems. 

Their contribution made up 12.1 per cent of UK GDP – nine times more than the cost of mental health problems to economic output, Oxford Economics' study found.

Peter O’Donnell, chief executive of Unum, said: "We have known for a long time just how importance mental health is to overall wellbeing.

"Our claims data tells us that mental health problems have grown to be the second most important driver of long-term employee absence after cancer, and employers play a key role in protecting the mental health of their staff. We challenge those who have not yet implemented mental health strategies to make this a top priority." 

Nigel Wilson, chief executive for Legal & General, said: “The importance of raising awareness and encouraging open, honest conversations about mental health in the workplace cannot be understated.