UK: Time To Talk: Changing The Way Employers View Mental Health

Last Updated: 9 February 2016
Article by Elizabeth Hampson and Ushma Soneji

Today, Thursday 4th February, is Time to Talk Day, aimed at getting the nation talking about mental health. Time to Talk Day is part of Time to Change, a campaign to end the stigma and discrimination that people with mental health problems face in England. The campaign is run by the mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, with funding from the Department of Health, Comic Relief and the Big Lottery Fund.

The Time to Change initiative started back in 2007 and, since then, annual public attitude surveys have found an 8.3 per cent improvement in public attitudes toward mental health. In the most recent survey, conducted at the end of 2014, public attitudes had improved by six per cent against a five per cent target, with more than two and a half million people having an improved attitude since the second phase of the campaign began in 2011. However, this shifting public perspective has taken slightly longer to adopt in the workplace. This week's blog explores how we helped Mind, one of Deloitte's main Charity partners, with their goal towards improving workplace mental health and wellbeing.

Mind's mission is to provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. As one in six people in the workplace are experiencing mental distress, depression or stress-related problems at any one time1, the workplace is an important area of focus for supporting the mental health of the nation.

Workplaces that support employees who are experiencing or at risk of poor mental health, and who promote an open, healthy workplace culture from which all employees can benefit, will themselves benefit in being recognised as a good place to work. In order to do this, employers need to understand how well their current policies are working and what the next steps are to improve them. Mind, is introducing a Workplace Wellbeing Index later this year so that employers can do exactly this.

The Index is designed to be a benchmark of best policy and practice, available for organisations that wish to gain a holistic view of their preventative workplace wellbeing activities and policies around mental health. Gaining employee feedback on how organisational policy and culture interact will be key to this. The aim is to raise awareness of mental health in the workplace and celebrate best practice and Mind, in response, will offer support and guidance to participating organisations based on their results, which will be structured to increase employee mental wellbeing and deliver business benefits.

Why is a Workplace Wellbeing Index needed?

Raising the profile of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is an important first step to improving employer attitudes and changing workplace culture as currently:

  • 72 per cent of workplaces have no mental health policy2
  • 56 per cent of people would not employ an individual who had depression, even if they were the most suitable candidate3
  • 92 per cent of people with mental health conditions believe that admitting to these in the workplace would damage their career4
  • 27 per cent of employees consider their organisations to take a much more reactive than proactive approach to wellbeing5
  • seven per cent of adults think that people with mental health problems shouldn't have the same rights to a job as anyone else6

The good news is that employers want to improve employee wellbeing with 53 per cent of companies claiming it to be on their senior leaders' agendas to a great or moderate extent7

As part of our charity partnership with Mind, we helped them in the creation of the Workplace Wellbeing Index. Specifically, we interviewed a cross-industry selection of organisations about their health and wellbeing agenda to help Mind understand how it can make best use of its expertise to support employers to make improvements in their workplaces. All employers we interviewed expressed an interest in working on this issue and a high proportion stressed that they were keen to invest in improving their approach.

However, in order to invest in a solution, these organisations said they needed to know the effectiveness of any existing policies and gaps in their coverage. Secondly, they wanted to understand what their solutions might look like; what practical steps had other employers taken to achieve best practice and how could they implement these solutions effectively. Finally, they needed to ideally demonstrate a measurable return on investment.

Taking part in Mind's Workplace Wellbeing Index will enable employers to really understand the impact of their current mental health policies, and identify any gaps. It will also give employees a chance to make their voice heard in a safe space - anonymised data and advice will be available to employers regarding appropriate improvements to support workers experiencing mental health problems, such as introducing flexible working options, reasonable adjustments, training for line managers on managing people experiencing mental health problems and promotion of emotional resilience. Finally, best practice employers will be publicly championed.

What is the potential impact?

In addition to providing more support for employees, tackling policies around mental health should also have a positive impact on industry productivity and profitability for the following reasons:

  • the annual cost of mental ill health to UK businesses in 2007 was estimated at £26 billion, a figure that could be reduced by up to 30 per cent through appropriate support and prevention8
  • median employee absence costs are estimated at £554 per employee per year9 and the leading cause of sickness absence is mental health with approximately 70 million days lost from work each year due to mental ill health10
  • the future fight for talent is another factor, in the 2015 Deloitte Millennials survey 37 per cent of millennials put workplace wellbeing as a key business priority11.

Whilst the status quo is unlikely to change quickly, we hope that the Index and associated support offered by Mind will contribute to shifting the mind-set of employers and raise the profile of mental health within the workplace. The Index should also provide strong evidence to demonstrate why  supporting the mental resilience of the workforce is a good investment.


1 Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health Mental health at work: developing the business case, 2007

2 Shaw Trust Mental Health: Still the Last Workplace Taboo?, 2010

3 YouGov Plc poll for Time to Change, 2009

4 YouGov Plc poll for Time to Change, 2009

5 CIPD Growing the health and wellbeing agenda: from first steps to full potential, 2016

6 Time to Change Public Attitudes to mental illness 2013-14, 2014

7 CIPD Growing the health and wellbeing agenda: from first steps to full potential, 2016

8 Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health Mental health at work: developing the business case, 2007

9 CIPD Growing the health and wellbeing agenda: from first steps to full potential, 2016

10 Department of Health Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2013, Public Mental Health Priorities: Investing in the Evidence, 2013

11 2015 Deloitte Millennials survey

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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