The first step is awareness : The true cost of mental health

14 Feb 2016

We work in one of the most vibrant industries in the world, both economically and the people within it. New figures show there are over 47,000 digital technology companies in the UK, employing well over 1.46 million people* and employment is set to grow by 5.4 per cent by 2020 - it is a really exciting time to part of the digital revolution that is springing up all around us.

The buzz of being in this industry is unquestionable - fast-paced developmenta constantly changing landscape of innovationsclients who need to react at the speed of culture - Our industry is right in the driving seat for the future.

With this fast-paced buzz also comes a much greater onus on business owners, line-managers and the c-suite to take better care of their staff. As we all know, in any company, the workforce is the biggest asset. We all find ourselves under stress at some point. You know the story - Relentless pitching, tight deadlines, conflicts with a co-workers. Any number of things can add to stress and therefore affect peoples mental-wellbeing. Some people thrive in a busy environment and enjoy working to ambitious targets, other people see their job as a means to an end. Where ever people sit on this spectrum, a short period of stress, on its own, is not likely to be considered a big problem, but prolonged stress can become more serious and either create long-term illness or make existing problems worse. It is so crucial that employers in our industry help their employees to find the balance between work and home-life and avoid creating situations that can contribute to long-term stress.

The Figures

Recent reports from The Office of National Statistics indicate that across the U.K, 22.3% of all people in paid employment have some kind of mental health problem. In other words, employers should expect to find on average that nearly 1 in 6 of their workforce is affected by depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions. These conditions also rank first and second in terms of causing absenteeism compared to all other medical conditions, in the workplace. These are sobering figures. The major concern is that these levels of mental health problems, in the workplace, are just not recognised by the majority of employers and by seriously underestimating the extent to which employees and fellow managers are experiencing these things, businesses probably don’t understand the damaging impact it may be having on their business.

Ignorance can be bliss

In practice, it can be really hard to distinguish when ‘stress’ turns into a ‘mental health problem’ and when existing mental health problems become exaggerated by the stresses at work - but businesses can try to mitigate the potential risk by recognising that the workforce needs to be well looked after. Health and well-being awareness need to extend far beyond the need to avoid or reduce the costs of absence or poor performance, it actually requires a totally different perception of health and well-being and a willingness from both employers and employees to change the behaviour towards it. Acknowledgement of the problem, in the long run, will give businesses a much better chance of reducing costs due to the absenteeism and presenteeism of employees.

The cost of presenteeism

In terms of those costs associated with the absenteeism of employees, the cost is obvious—100% of an employees productivity is lost each day they are not on the job. The Office of National Statistics has evidence that mental health problems such as stress, depression and anxiety contribute to a significant number of days of lost work across the U.K - A staggering 15.2 million days of lost work per year. This stat excludes things such as manic depression and schizophrenia which are grouped as serious mental health problems.

Presenteeism is also potentially more costly to a business than straight up days-off-sick. the cost of presenteeism is a more “hidden” cost because a worker will be on the job, but potentially not accomplishing as much. The costs of presenteeism are difficult to model compared to absenteeism. However, two points are clear, health-related presenteeism has, relative to absence, the larger effect and mental ill-health is particularly likely to be manifest in the form of presenteeism rather than absenteeism. This is a big risk for businesses within our industry. So as a business, ensuring that employees have the right support is the only way of making sure presenteeism does not slow down the predicted growth of the businesses and therefore the industry as a whole.

We can be the future

What's remarkable about this brilliant industry we work in is how open we are to change. How willing we are to listen and how remarkable we are at communicating - that's our job when you boil it all down. So let's tackle the issue head on and be the best industry in the U.K to actively reduce the problem and look after our staff in a way that becomes an example for every other industry around the world. We can be world leading in this conversation.

As yourself the following questions - What are you doing to reduce the potential of poor mental health impacting your work force?

1 - Are you creating the right balance between work and home-life by trying to ensure people don’t have too much or too little to do?

2 - Do you make sure the work your staff are doing is not too difficult or too easy for their level, which will help increase a feeling of self-worth.

3 - Do you ensure that deadlines are not unrealistic? Do you help push back on pitch deadlines and client exceptions? Which might seem scary or even lose you business in the short-term, but in the long run save you tens of thousands of pounds from absenteeism and presenteeism of employees.

4 - Do you make sure that your staff feel like they have control over what they do and how they do it?

5 - How much consideration is give to things like the working conditions e.g. bad lighting, furniture and equipment, and the huge difference that could make to stress levels and therefore times off with illness?

6 - Are you offering training to line managers as a key initiative, coupled with providing all employees with information and opportunities to engage in activities that help prevent mental health problems?

7 - Finally, do you, as employers have the guidance you need, in identifying mental health problems and ensuring that these are not simply treated as poor performance?

It's OK to only just be starting or have not even started yet. Just get started.

The two way street

It is worth concluding, by saying that a partnership approach between employer and employee is likely to be very effective in changing not just employee health issues, but attitudes and values as well. While it is important, to recognise the health-related costs to businesses, it is just as important not to lose sight of the considerable number of ways in which work benefits and contributes to our health and well-being.

As more and more organisations, big and small, start to develop policies to raise awareness about stress and mental health, and the obvious rise of interest in ‘well-being’ in the workplace as well ‘as a greater introduction of stress management tools and other preventative measures within the workplace’ - just ask yourself, are you acknowledging the impacts and being part of the movement? Because not doing so could have an impact on your place in the growth of the industry.

The message is clear ‘good health is good work’ and there is growing evidence to support the case that workplace well-being interventions make good business sense.

Sources & further reading;

About the Author

Pete Trainor is a BIMA Executive, digital design psychologist, public speaker, accidental polymath and founder of NEXUS in London. He talks all over the world on creative & social technologies & the physiological & psychological effects on their audiences. Pete regularly appears in UK national and international press as an analyst on digital media, creative industries, emergent technologies, and tech markets. He is a mental health campaigner for the Digital Industry and has a very simple mantra: Don't do things better, do better things.


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