The main driver for businesses to improve mental health among their employees is cost, and as a result, strategies are usually managed by the HR Team or at Director level in smaller businesses.  However, it seems that current methods and strategies are failing to tackle the problem.

How prevalent is mental illness?

The statistics on the prevalence of mental health problems are staggering.  Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, and in England alone, 1 in 6 people report experiencing symptoms like anxiety and depression in any given week.  Meanwhile, GRiD this week report that the biggest cause of absence in the UK is down to stress.

Unfortunately, there is a price tag attached – mental illness is estimated to cost the UK economy upwards of £33 million each year.  It’s a price that UK businesses simply can’t afford – and comes with an even higher human cost, as mental illness impacts every area of a sufferer’s life.

Leading independent advisors, the Health Insurance Group, believe that employers have a big part to play, starting by making changes to their strategy and encouraging line managers to get involved.

Why HR can’t just ‘deal with it’.

While line managers are often given the power to discipline staff for ‘sickies’, and manage staff for day to day tasks, dealing with ‘mental illness’ is seen as ‘an HR problem’.

While line managers understand the need to deal with minor accidents and enter them into the accident book immediately, when it comes to mental health, it’s a different story.  While they may notice someone seems ‘out of kilter’, line managers are reluctant to discuss mental health challenges with their staff.

The culture of silence means that 8 in 10 employers say ZERO employees have disclosed a mental health condition, and 30% of employees say that they wouldn’t feel able to talk openly with a line manager if they were feeling stressed.  Line managers see staff every day, but often by the time HR is made aware that an employee needs additional health support, the condition is already serious.

By changing the way line managers handle mental illness in the workplace, and increasing awareness, the Health Insurance Group believe there is a good opportunity to intervene at an earlier stage.  This will improve support for mental health conditions which is better for the employee and ultimately could also have an impact on the bottom line.  Mental health, says the Health Insurance Group, is EVERYONE’S responsibility.

How can employers tackle Mental Health in the Workplace?


The Health Insurance Group are recommend that employers take the following steps to improve support within their workplaces:

  1. Explore attitudes in your workplace – senior leaders should evaluate the current attitudes to mental health in their organisation, among both line managers and staff. This should include identifying high-risk roles, locations or particular issues their staff are struggling with. Targeted employee surveys are a really effective tool that is being used to do this. The resulting insight can help to identify the most appropriate support.
  2. Train line managers – while HR Managers receive years of training on how to manage sensitive issues among your workforce, line managers usually don’t.  It is therefore vital that line managers are trained in how to spot potential signs, and how to approach employees they suspect need additional support.  Early support and intervention can prevent mental health issues from escalating. This helps to break down the taboo of mental ill-health.  Training will equip managers and help them feel confident to deal with any issues that arise.
  3. Review support that is already in place – Many employee assistance programmes, private medical programmes and group risk policies offer really useful add-on benefits for supporting employees with mental health challenges.  In some cases, even if the main benefits are only available to key staff, mental health support benefits may be extended to all staff.  Make sure that telephone helplines, debt counselling and other support services don’t get lost in the small print – you pay for them, so use them!
  4. Communicate support to employees – Often, far more time is dedicated to negotiating benefits than to communicating them to staff.  Even the most comprehensive support is useless if employees don’t know about it or feel uncomfortable accessing it. In order to promote its use, managers should be trained to signpost employees to the most relevant type of support.

Overall, managers at every level within the business have a part to play in improving mental wellbeing.

Brett Hill, managing director, The Health Insurance Group, says:

“All employers have huge potential to support and protect the mental health of staff. It’s really good to see more focus and a more proactive approach emerging. Managers should speak to their advisers about the breadth of support that is available in the market now to meet this urgent need.”