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The Scale of The Problem

There is a mental health crisis in the workplace. In 2019, 28.2 million working days were lost in the UK alone due to work-related ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries. Most of these were related to stress, depression or anxiety (17.9 million) or musculoskeletal disorders (8.9 million). Across the EU, it is estimated that 165 million people each year are affected by mental disorders. Providing care and support for these patients costs an estimated $798 billion annually, with some experts predicting that these costs will double by 2030. These are high costs that are largely borne by the taxpayer or counted in lost economic potential. Globally, estimates suggest that 450 million people currently suffer from mental health conditions, with 25% of the global population affected by mental health issues during their lifetime.

Those affected by these sometimes completely debilitating health concerns were off work for an average of 17.6 days. Except for panic disorder (in adults), the prevalence of all common mental health problems has increased, with women now twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with general anxiety disorders.  A recent index of 301 diseases found mental health problems one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide, accounting for 21.2% of years lived with disability worldwide.

Mental Health in the Workplace

When it comes to the impact of mental health amongst employees the evidence is a real cause for concern. The 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey  (APMS) found that one adult in eight employees reported receiving mental health treatment, with 10.4% receiving medication and 3% receiving psychological therapy. In 2019 it was estimated that 45% of sick leave was stress-related.


It is estimated that 64% of people with common mental health problems are employed. In the UK that equates to an estimated 4.6 million or 1 in 6.8, employed people experiencing mental health problems in the workplace. Alarmingly, research in 2016 suggested that more than 50% of the general population will suffer from at least one mental health issue or disorder during their working lives. For employers that means 1 in every 2 members of staff will be away from work for a relatively prolonged period of time.

Poor mental health in the workplace usually translates into poor quality work, low motivation and even conflict between colleagues. A 2020 report by Deloitte identified that poor mental health costs UK employers as much as £45 billion each year. This is a rise of 16%  since 2016. According to Oxford Economics, 181,600 people are unable to join the UK workforce because of their mental health problems. It is likely that the situation has worsened over recent months.

The Impact of Covid-19


The impact of Covid-19 has not yet been fully assessed. However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that lockdowns and working at home contribute to feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression. Deloitte cites the ‘always-on’ culture as a major contributor to health problems amongst workers who cannot switch off at the end of the working day. Working from home makes it even more difficult to step away from the pressure of work. For workers who already have mental health concerns, the impacts can be even more acute. The change of environment from the office to home and vice versa, a necessary relief for many employees, is no longer obtainable. 

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A Valuable Investment

There are, however, opportunities for employers. Deloitte suggests that for every £1 spent by employers on mental health returns £5 of value to the business in reduced absence, reduced presenteeism and reduced staff turnover. A separate study by Deloitte in Canada highlighted that although a strong ROI can be achieved by investing in mental health, programmes that were being used often failed to address the full breadth of support services. They suggest that workplace solutions need to cover the full spectrum of mental health, from the promotion of wellbeing to intervention and care.


For many employers, the importance of mental health has already become a key consideration for staff benefit packages, with firms investing in better working environments, an understanding of company culture and providing access to health and wellbeing. In larger firms, this support may be provided by internal HR departments, while smaller businesses often outsource mental health and wellbeing to specialist service providers.

The benefits of these investments should not be underestimated. Not only do staff feel cared for, and therefore more motivated, but they are also likely to stay in the organisation for longer. This reduces recruitment costs and retains valuable tacit knowledge in the business.  Research also suggests that organisations with high levels of employee wellbeing have outperformed the stock market by around 2%-3% per year over a 25 year period, while FTSE 100 companies demonstrating best practice in employee health and wellbeing show a higher than average shareholder return at 61% instead of 51%.

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This all translates into a great reputation for the business and reduces the burden on tax-payer funded mental health support in the community. Helping people to be economically active is also great for the economy. That’s why it’s so important that firm’s find ways to address the mental health crisis in the workplace.


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