Thursday 11 July 2019 4:23 am

Are employers prepared to step up to support their team's mental health?

Peter O’Donnell is chief executive of Unum UK

Despite the shadow Brexit has cast over her premiership, Theresa May has been determined towards the end of her time in office to return to two tasks she set herself on the steps of Downing Street three years ago: fighting discrimination and injustice, and better supporting people struggling with mental health problems.

It’s not surprising, then, that the government is set to launch a raft of new policies designed to improve employment for those with mental health issues on 15 July.

Make no mistake – this isn’t about tinkering around the edges. The government’s changes will be big news for business – with a tougher and costlier regime for employers, stronger employment laws, and new rights and support for workers.

The Prime Minister is right about the need for action: poor mental health costs our economy as much as £99bn each year, with stress, anxiety and depression now accounting for more than half of all working days lost to ill health.

Published today, Unum’s Return to Work report shows that more employees than ever before are seeking help for mental health issues, with the biggest increases seen for men under 30.

While some may dismiss “burnout” as millennial jargon, it is now such a serious phenomenon that chronic stress at work unaddressed by employers has been included in the latest World Health Organisation International Classification of Diseases.

Many of us probably spend more time with colleagues than with our families, so it’s no surprise our working environment is closely connected to our mental wellbeing.

Businesses are increasingly seeing the value of services that support staff facing difficulties, and because all businesses are affected – no matter what their size – we want to see the government support smaller employers to access services like ours, so that everyone can get the help they need.

But, as with most things, prevention is always better than cure. 

Not only do today’s responsible employers need to provide support to employees who are struggling, but it’s also common sense that a good working environment, opportunities for development, and a healthy work-life balance are vital to our mental wellbeing.

Any of us could face a mental health problem during our working life, so all of us – individuals, government, and employers – need to step up and act. Our future economy is depending on it.