excludingadultOrganisations that talk about mental ill health are more likely to have a positive workforce, according to new research.

A study by Nina Fryer and Dr Ian Kenvyn from Leeds Trinity University, who spent 10 months with two organisations in Leeds, assessed whether activities to reduce the stigma around mental ill health made a difference to culture and practices within each business.

Prior to any intervention, staff were asked to complete anonymous questionnaires about their awareness of mental ill health including provision in the workplace, procedures, personal confidence and confidence in their line manager. Alongside this, interviews were carried out with staff across all levels of seniority. This process was then repeated 10 months later, to enable the evaluation team to find out what changes had occurred as a result of the interventions.

Tactics to encourage openness about mental ill health within the organisations were delivered by Mindful Employer Leeds in partnership with Leeds Mind. They were delivered in two organisations – a financial services company with 100 employees, and a third-sector social housing organisation with 64 employees – between December 2015 and October 2016. Activities included the provision of information, support with communications and training for management staff on how to recognise, react and respond to issues.

The results showed that while organisational support for anxiety, stress and depression remained the same, awareness and confidence to address issues in the workplace increased dramatically after activities to raise the profile of mental health.

As well as having a more positive workforce, there are a number of other benefits for the workplace including:

Reducing sickness absence due to mental ill health – which can account for up to 45% of total sickness absence

Reducing presenteeism, where staff shouldn’t be at work if they’re ill – but feel as though they have to, and may underperform as a result

Increasing staff perceptions of, and reducing the stigma around mental ill health.

The research found that although the larger effect was felt by the organisation with lower levels of initial awareness, the smaller organisation – which was undergoing significant re-structure changes – also benefitted from the interventions. For both organisations, the activities created a positive cultural shift and reduced employees’ perceptions of stigma associated with mental health.

Fryer, senior lecturer in health and wellbeing at Leeds Trinity University, said: “There are many organisations in Leeds, and across the UK, who still have a stigma around mental ill health in the workplace – which can have a negative impact on employees, partners and customers. 

“Organisations that embrace a cultural change to encourage their employees to talk about mental ill health and develop staff skills to recognise and respond to these issues, will feel more comfortable in providing assistance to staff members that might need support. And employees will feel more comfortable about speaking out in a safe environment.”

Helen Kemp, CEO at Leeds Mind, said: “Poor mental health is now the number one reason for staff absence at work – with stress, anxiety and depression causing more working days lost than any other health problem. It affects one in six employees at any one time.

“At Leeds Mind, we believe enhanced skills and better understanding of mental health enables improved team management and creates healthier, and happier, work-places. Often, simply creating a work culture where people feel able to talk about their issues and managers feel confident to respond can evoke positive change.”

A representative from the financial services company involved in the project said: “Mindful Employer is about encouraging people to be open about their mental health and overcome the stigma associated with mental health issues. We took part in the evaluation project as we wanted to create a culture where people feel they can talk openly with their managers about these matters – and to ensure that managers are fully equipped for those conversations.”