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Guide launched to help employers reduce presenteeism associated with mental ill health

The issue of mental ill health is still being swept under the carpet in most workplaces, with less than half of employees saying they would feel confident to disclose a mental health problem to their employer.

This is according to a CIPD report published this morning to coincide with the launch of a new guide to help more employers to manage and support mental health at work, which has been developed by CIPD and mental health charity Mind.

The survey of 2,000 UK staff reveals despite more than a quarter (26%) of employees having experienced a mental health problem while in employment, too few employers are taking positive steps to manage this increasingly business critical issue.

Just 25% of respondents say their organisation encourages staff to talk openly about mental health problems and only 37% say their employer supports employees with mental health problems well.

Women are significantly more likely to report experiencing a mental health problem while in employment (31%) than men (22%).

In all, 25% of respondents say their current mental health is moderate (21%) or poor (4%) compared to 41% that describe their mental health as good and 33% that say it is very good.

Nearly two thirds of employees with poor mental health say that this is the result of a combination of problems at work and outside work in their personal life. Just 15% of respondents with poor mental health say this is due to work alone and 20% say their problems are solely down to problems outside work in their personal lives.

Just over a third of respondents say their employer supports employees with mental health problems well. In contrast 21% of workers say their employer does not support mental health at work well, while 31% do not know what support is available, suggesting poor communication is part of the problem.

People working in the voluntary sector (39%) and public sector (37%) are significantly more likely than those in the private sector (23%) to say they have experienced a mental health problem while in employment.

Those respondents who report they have experienced mental health problems while in employment in the past are much less likely to say that their current mental health is good.

The guide, Managing and supporting mental health at work - disclosure tools for managers, will help employers ensure that how they manage people supports their mental wellbeing and resilience, and also encourage more employees to talk about any mental health issues they may be facing at an early stage.

Ben Willmott, CIPD head of public policy, said: "Managing mental health at work is central to good business performance. Stress is the number one cause of long-term sickness absence, but it is not just time lost to absence which impacts on the bottom line. Our survey highlights that the majority of people with poor mental health continue to attend work and report that it can impact on their ability to concentrate, make good decisions and provide effective customer service. It is estimated that this presenteeism costs UK businesses £15.1 billion per year in reduced productivity, while mental health related sickness absence costs £8.4 billion.

"The guidance underlines that managing and supporting mental health at work is integral to good people management. To a large degree this is about how managers interact with staff on a day to day basis and the extent to which they build working relationships based on mutual trust and confidence, for example, by managing workloads effectively and providing appropriate feedback, coaching and support where necessary.

"Managers are the eyes and ears of organisations, so need to be equipped with the knowledge and confidence to enable them to pick up on the early warning signs and intervene where employees are struggling. Mental ill health is usually caused by a complex interaction between pressures at work and at home, so increasing worries about debt, home repossession and job insecurity, as the economy continues to remain depressed, may well lead to a surge in mental ill health."

Mind chief executive Paul Farmer added: "This research shows that there is still a long way to go until workers feel able to discuss their mental health openly in work, enabling them to get the support they need. With 1 in 4 people surveyed having experienced mental ill health, this is an issue that will touch almost every workplace in the country.

"Supporting staff through a difficult period does not have to cost the earth and can have huge benefits for any organisation. This new guide provides advice for managers to help them foster an environment where staff can feel comfortable to disclose a mental health problem, and simple information to support their employees through any period of mental ill health to help their recovery."