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Work-related mental health cases hit a record high

As Mental Health Awareness Week kicks off research finds that employers recognise the importance of good mental health but don't yet have enough support in place

The number of self-reported work-related mental health cases in the UK hit a record high last year, according to research from Clyde & Co.

There were approximately 431,000 self-reported work-related mental health cases in the UK in 2016-17 – the highest number on record – according to the research. Employees stated that they believed their job had caused, or worsened, their mental health issues.

The research showed that health and social work has the highest frequency of self-reported mental health cases per 100,000 employees. In 2016-17 there were an estimated 2,130 cases of work-related mental health issues per 100,000 employees working in that sector.

Jason Bleasdale, an insurance partner at Clyde & Co, said employers must be more proactive around tackling mental health issues.

"In recent years mental health has rightly been gaining awareness in the public, political and private spheres. Indeed, it has taken on increased global significance," he said.

"In stress-related claims the onus is increasingly shifting towards employers having to take action at an ever-earlier stage. They must be able to show that the correct steps were taken, so being on the front foot is imperative. It will also help them benefit (within the claims arena) from the increased and existing investment and focus upon mental health and wellbeing."

Separate research from Cascade HR revealed that stress has become a “way of life” for many employees.

One in five (20%) respondents said they had been off work because of stress, while 67% had felt stressed at work for a week or more during the past 12 months.

Workload was ranked as the biggest culprit, with 68% citing this as a cause of stress during the working day. This was followed by colleague behaviour (47%), juggling work and family pressures (40%), and management style (39%). A further 61% of participants cited societal factors.

However, there are signs of plans to address mental health in the workplace. Of the 540 people polled by Cascade, 277 had an HR or management responsibility. Of these, 64% stated that their wellbeing strategy is ‘a work in progress but heading in the right direction’, and 58% said mental wellness is crucial within the workplace and that they intend to increase their efforts.

Participants also identified their coping mechanisms for mitigating stress. Switching off from work was the most popular action (27%), followed by seeking colleague support (26%) and listening to music (13%).

The role of line managers was also highlighted, with 77% of people reporting that the support of an effective manager plays a significant part in their management of stress levels and mental wellbeing.

Further research from EEF and Westfield Health found that 80% of manufacturing companies see improving productivity as a reason for investing in wellbeing. It also showed that the overall mental health and wellbeing of employees is inextricably linked to motivation, engagement and performance in the workplace, with improvements of up to 10% possible where these factors are addressed.

But while the research found that many organisations realise the importance of addressing mental health, few had policies in place to support workers. It found that 60% of companies in the manufacturing sector carry out a physical risk assessment, but just 15% assess work risk to mental health.

Additionally, fewer than a third (28%) of companies train managers in managing stress, and just 20% are utilising interventions such as mental health first aid training.

“More and more companies are recognising the benefits and opportunities of promoting the wider wellbeing of their employees. This can bring significant benefit to companies with employees who are better motivated and engaged,” said Steve Jackson, director of health, safety and sustainability at EEF.

“Giving employees support and a positive psychosocial work environment has a proven impact on productivity and means that employees embrace the challenges and demands of work with more energy and commitment.”

EEF and Westfield Health surveyed 141 companies between January and March 2018.