Beautiful Hispanic young adult woman is smiling during a support group therapy meeting. Unrecognizable woman is placing her hand on shoulder to offer support.

2020: It’s Time to Take Action on Mental Health at Work 



There is no doubt that mental health in the workplace is an increasingly hot topic and that pressure on organisations is mounting to pay it serious attention. But the questions remain:

How much attention are you paying to mental health in your workplace?
Are you taking it seriously or just ticking boxes?    

From where I’m sitting too many companies see dealing with mental health issues as a painful necessity rather than a business imperative. Mental health issues cost your business money – a lot of money – and they’re often hidden costs. The cost of presenteeism, the cost of leaveism, the cost of lower engagement, productivity and creativity, the cost of negatively impacted relationships. Stress, anxiety and depression are on the rise. I see them every day in my Coaching work. These mental health issues are often caused by, or at least exacerbated by, working conditionsIt’s time to take ownership and serious action.

Latest Deloitte Survey into Mental Health at Work – Top-Line Results

The latest Deloitte survey into mental health at work has just been published. Entitled ‘Mental health and employers: Refreshing the case for investment,’ this is a very welcome and timely update to their highly acclaimed 2017 report.

Key statistics include:

  • 1/6th of workers experience mental health issues at any one time
  • Stress, anxiety and depression account for about half of all working days lost
  • The cost of poor mental health on business is up 16% to £45bn
  • Whilst mental health related sickness absence is down, presenteeism is on the rise
  • Presenteeism is reported to cost businesses around 3.5x more than sickness leave
  • Leaveism is also on the rise ie. Working after hours, working on holiday etc
  • The young (under 30s) are struggling the most – costing 8.3% of their average salary vs an average of 5.8%
Source: ‘Mental health and employers: Refreshing the case for investment

So, what can you do about it?

6 Core Mental Health Standards 

In October 2017 the Stevenson Famer report ‘Thriving at Work’ was published. This was the result of an independent review of mental health at work commissioned by the Government. It set out 6 core mental health standards as follows:

  • Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
  • Develop mental health awareness among employees
  • Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
  • Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work-life balance and opportunities for development
  • Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing
Source: Thriving at Work: The Independent Review of Mental Health and Employers

These provide an excellent framework and starting point for developing and/or evaluating your mental health strategy.

Do a quick mental check right now. Which of these 6 core standards are you delivering well, less well or not at all?

Mental Health at Work – How Are We Doing?

Whatever your responses, there is undoubtedly still a long way to go.

Anecdotally when I’m working with Coachees struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety, panic attacks and unhealthy levels of stress, very few feel comfortable raising it with their line manager or employers. They fear it will make them look as if they’re not up to the job, limit their career opportunities or even put them on the radar for the next round of redundancies. Talk about the opposite of psychological safety!

Meanwhile, statistically, 9 out of 10 people who experience mental health problems say they face stigma and discrimination as a result. 60% of people say that this is damaging or even more damaging than the symptoms of their mental health problem with over half saying they are most negatively impacted by such stigma in their place of work.

Further proof came by way of the BITC (Business in the Community) Mental Health at Work 2019 report entitled ‘Time To Take Ownership.’ This is based on a YouGov survey of over 4,000 employees. The results showed that:

  • Less than half of employees felt comfortable talking to their line managers about their mental health (88% of employees in SMEs failed to do so)
  • 60% of managers said that there are barriers to them providing mental health support
  • Only 11% of line managers had received training on understanding workplace stressors

Perhaps of even greater concern was the following statistic:

  • 51% of CEOs/Board members believe they supported mental health issues well, whilst only 38% of managers felt the same. A worrying disconnect.

From the same report, the top 5 workplace stressors were as follows:

  1. Too much pressure eg. too many priorities or targets
  2. Workload restricting ability to take holiday
  3. Lack of support
  4. Negative working relationships
  5. Lack of trust in line manager

Interestingly the top non-workplace stressor was loneliness – an interesting insight into the world of social media and our increasingly virtual interactions.

The Good News

There is, however, some good news.

In their 2017 report, Deloitte estimated the average ROI for mental health interventions at 4.2:1.

In their latest report, they now estimate it’s an average of 5.2:1 and state this is likely to be a big under-estimate. The highest return was 10.8:1.

In terms of driving higher returns on investment, they said there were 3 key factors:

  1. Using diagnostics and screening to help target interventions based on need eg. Higher risk groups
  2. Focusing on organisation‑wide culture change and awareness-raising
  3. Undertaking proactive, preventative initiatives to improve employee resilience


Our own mental health and resilience programme – Thrive! – does just that.

  • We work with clients from the top-down on understanding the issues using diagnostic tools and surveys to target interventions and drive appropriate culture changes.
  • We work from the bottom up raising awareness and compassion for mental health challenges, removing the stigma and sharing proven tools and strategies for reducing unhealthy stress and building underlying resilience.
  • Last, but not least, we work with the squeezed middle – the managers on the front line – giving them the confidence and the language to initiate conversations around mental health, supporting them in creating psychological safety for their teams and signposting available resources and support for anyone who is already struggling.

An organisation-wide approach focussed primarily on prevention and early intervention using the latest diagnostic tools and a best practice approach.


Thus, the business case has been made. It is time to take serious action moving mental health at work firmly up the agenda and taking a proactive, organisation-wide approach. In doing so you will create a more positive culture, improve the quality of your leadership, drive higher levels of engagement and productivity and build more resilient individuals, teams and organisations. So, what are you waiting for?

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