Openness at work 'next big mental health challenge'

Small firms and over-qualified graduates also identified as risks

Creating a workplace environment where employees suffering from mental health problems feel able to disclose them to their line manager is the “next big challenge” facing employers in the mental wellbeing arena, according to the chief executive of a leading mental health charity.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, told delegates at an Association of British Insurers seminar held in central London today that there is now a “hard and fast business case” for companies to invest in mental wellbeing services.

But he said despite this, progress in breaking down stigma and in senior leaders getting on board with mental wellbeing programmes has been slow.

Farmer said that there is a still a sense that if an employee was developing a mental health problem at work they would not wish to disclose it to their employer, especially in the current economic climate.

He told the audience: “That is the next big challenge we have over the next few years.”

While he acknowledged the difficulties involved in improving disclosure, Farmer spoke of the importance of encouraging and fostering an environment in which employees felt able to speak up in the workplace.

Professor Stephen Bevan, director of the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness and another panelist at the event, also addressed the issue of disclosure, speaking of the need for “psychologically healthy workplaces” and line managers which take “a more enlightened approach”.

He said that while progress is being made on mental wellbeing within many larger organisations, small and medium sized organisations could be a significant risk for the future, as there is “almost no data” on firms of this type when it comes to mental health.

Professor Bevan also identified the issue of an over skilled workforce as a “significant” future risk for mental health problems, arguing that as increasing numbers of graduates enter the labour market but are forced to accept jobs that do not fit their skills, we could see mental health problems rise.

Dr Mark Winwood, clinical director for psychological health at AXA PPP healthcare, added that when it comes to the healthcare solutions that employers can put in place to address mental ill health, organisations must ensure that any employee assistance programme (EAP) they choose to implement is fit for purpose and easily available for use.

He said: “Unfortunately, the rapid growth of EAPs in the UK has seen prices collapse and the market become commoditised. The only way to survive for some providers in this price-driven market has been to restrict access to service.”

Dr Winwood also advocated the measurement of treatment outcomes to ensure employees are getting the right care and that practitioners are affective, as well as engaging with managers where appropriate to consider steps they can take to support the employee in returning to work.

To find out more about workplace mental health, click here to read our recent Health Insurance Boardroom Briefing on the subject.

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