Managing mental health and wellbeing

Effective management of your staff's mental health and wellbeing could make your business more productive.

The current coronavirus crisis – coupled with concerns over the economy and Brexit – makes this one of the most stressful periods that employers and staff in the UK have faced in a long time.

Yet the increased pressures of work predate coronavirus. According to the Labour Force SurveyLink opens in a new window, 12.48 million working days were lost to work-related stress, depression and anxiety in 2018–2019. During that period, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of all work-related ill health cases and 54% of all working days lost due to ill health.

All this lost productivity damages businesses and, ultimately, the UK economy.

Andy Bell, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, explains: “Mental ill health at work cost the UK economy £34.9 billion in 2017. That’s the equivalent of £1,300 for every employee in every business.” He expects this figure to be exceeded as a result of COVID-19.

“Employers can take steps to reduce this cost in their businesses, and this must start with creating safe, fair and just workplaces. We know that unfair job expectations, bullying, insecurity and discrimination at work are toxic to mental health.

“Creating workplaces where people feel safe – especially now – where they are treated fairly and given a say over their working routines and conditions will support better mental health and ultimately improve productivity.”

The World Health Organization defines mental health and wellbeing as:

"...not just the absence of mental disorder. It is a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community."

While everyone has pressures in their daily lives, workplace stress can contribute towards depression, damaging a person’s mental health. As a result, it’s important to try and reduce the risks of this happening at work.

Read more about ways to manage work-related stress

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is a government agency that regulates and enforces workplace health, safety and welfare, and conducts research into occupational risks in the UK.

According to the HSE, employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessmentLink opens in a new window and acting on it.

If you have fewer than five employees, you don’t have to put your risk assessment in writing, but it’s recommended that you do so you can review it later (for example, if something changes). If you have five or more employees, by law you must write the risk assessment down.

The HSE also highlights using its Management Standards (see below) as a way of tackling work-related stress.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as:

“the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them”.

It argues that although stress can lead to physical and mental health conditions and can aggravate existing ones, the good news is that it can be tackled. By taking action to remove or reduce these causes of stress, you can prevent people becoming ill and avoid those with an existing condition becoming less able to control their illness.

The HSE’s Management Standards approachLink opens in a new window to tackling work-related stress establishes a framework to help employers deal with such stress and, as a result, also reduce the incidence and negative impact of mental ill health.

This approach is intended to help employers put processes in place for properly managing work-related stress. By covering six key areas of work design, you'll be taking steps that will reduce pressure, manage potential causes of stress, and limit the negative impact that the work could have on your employees.

Learn more about the HSE’s Management Standards approach to tackling workplace stressLink opens in a new window

Many people who are self-employed are in a particularly vulnerable situation.

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) points out that:

“For freelancers and the self-employed, coronavirus has been not only a health crisis, but also an income crisis. We can now see that this and the other circumstances of the lockdown have drastically undermined freelancers’ mental health. A quarter of them say they now have 'poor' or 'very poor' mental health – more than a 300 per cent increase since before the pandemic.”

In a recent report, it looked into this in depth by surveying freelancersLink opens in a new window. When asked what they would find useful to improve their mental health, the freelancers’ most popular answers were to do with interacting with others:

  • ‘coaching and mentoring’ (23%)
  • ‘connecting with others in similar situations’ (22%)
  • ‘co-working opportunities’ (22%)

Financial stress now affects much of the working population thanks in part to COVID-19 and the measures being implemented to reduce its spread. But it was a major concern before coronavirus hit, according to research from financial wellbeing provider NeyberLink opens in a new window.

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute states that two-thirds of employees who are struggling financially report at least one sign of poor mental health that could affect their ability to function at work. It argues then that employers should help build financial resilience among employees and improve productivity by taking seven stepsLink opens in a new window that will help increase financial wellbeing.

That’s why Professor Sir Cary Cooper, co-chair of the National Forum for Health & Wellbeing at Work, states:

“Financial wellbeing is now, more than ever before, a crucial part of a holistic approach to employee wellbeing.

“There is a pressing need for every organisation to engage with employees to review and develop existing and new benefits; and for smaller organisations in particular to signpost employees to external services and products. Many organisations are also missing the opportunity to use their reward packages to promote their overall workplace wellbeing programmes.”

Professor Cooper helped produce the Financial Wellbeing GuideLink opens in a new window, which includes practical guidance to help organisations take action to support their workforce’s financial wellbeing. It covers:

  • identifying the scale of the problem in your organisation
  • reducing the stigma for staff to come forward
  • gaining senior leadership buy-in
  • developing and evaluating a financial wellbeing strategy, which becomes part of an organisation’s overall business strategy
  • minimum expectations of all employers and examples of effective practice

It specifically recommends two actions that SMEs can take to improve their employees’ financial wellbeing:

  • Letting employees know the value of their overall reward package (for example, where you offer benefits other than pay), so they can make sure they get the most from them
  • Using an ‘employee champion’ to deliver financial wellbeing messages, information and guidance sources to their peers

Money and Mental Health – Best practice checklist for employers Link opens in a new window

Guidelines to help employers support their staff with both their financial and mental wellbeing.

Mind – Mental health at work coronavirus toolkit Link opens in a new window

Information, advice and support from mental health charity Mind.

Mental Health at Work Link opens in a new window

A website dedicated to improving mental health for workers.

Regional support

Enter your postcode to find business support and case studies from businesses within your region. You'll be taken to our interactive map.

Reference to any organisation, business and event on this page does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation from the British Business Bank or the UK Government. Whilst we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.