A blog from the CIPD representative on the Council, Rachel Suff

 Workplaces need to step up support for mental health

Despite the progress that has clearly been made by employers in supporting employee health and well-being in recent years, there are also grounds for concern. The CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Well-being at Work2018 survey reportshows that mental ill health is an even more significant issue for organisations than it was in 2016: over a fifth (22%) now report that mental ill health is the primarycause of long-term absence compared with 13% in 2016, and there has also been a significant increase in the number of reported common mental health conditions among employees in the past 12 months. Hopefully, the fact that many more organisations are raising awareness of mental health issues across their workforces (51% in 2018 versus 31% in 2016) is fostering a more open culture where employees are more willing to talk about their mental health.

If organisations are serious about improving people’s well-being, they need to dig deep and take action to combat the root problems causing work-related stress, such as unmanageable workloads – yet again by far the greatest cause of stress at work according to the CIPD research. Organisations need to develop a solid, evidence-based understanding of the causes of unhealthy practices such as ‘presenteeism’, or people turning up for work when ill – a trend observed by nearly 9 in 10 employers.

Our findings show less than a third of senior leaders encourage a focus on mental well-being through their actions and behaviour, or that line managers are trained in supporting people with mental ill health. We need to see a substantial improvement in both of these areas if we are going to achieve the step change needed to improve people’s mental health at work. An effective employee well-being strategy requires a ‘whole organisation’ approach, along with serious leadership commitment and supportive line management. Good occupational health provision is also vital.

Unsurprisingly, organisations that have a standalone well-being strategy, senior managers with well-being on their agenda and line managers who recognise the importance of well-being are more likely to report positive outcomes. The HR profession has a key role to play in steering the health and well-being agenda by ensuring that senior managers regard it as a priority, and that employee well-being practices are integrated in the organisation’s day-to-day operations

Business in the Community’s Mental Health at Work 2018 report, produced in conjunction with Mercer, charts the positive improvements that have been made in workplaces but says ‘the pace of change is too slow’, a conclusion that is backed up by a range of survey findings. For example, in 2018 45% of employees believe that their organisation does well in supporting those with mental health issues, compared with 40% in 2016, and in 2018 30% of line managers have taken part in mental health training compared with 22% in 2016.


There is a range of good practical guidance available for organisations on mental health to help guide their people management practices, such as:

CIPD and Mind People Managers’ Guide to Mental Health

Business in the Community and Public Health England’s  Mental Health toolkit for employers

www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk– a Mental Health at Work Gateway in partnership with Mind and The Royal Foundation. The Gateway is aimed at HR professionals, employers and managers in supporting those with mental ill health at work.