The government has stated that one in four people has a mental disorder at some point in their life, with an annual cost to the economy of £105bn. Although recent times have taught us we cannot rely on predictors (see recent election and referendum results), research has shown that ‘at any one time, one worker in six will be experiencing depression, anxiety or problems relating to stress.’ The conversation regarding mental health and employee’s wellbeing deserves more air time because with no signs of improvement and the costs to businesses only getting greater, HR teams are in the perfect position to assist in mitigating this for the good of employees and the organisation as a whole.
HR functions manage a number of activities including talent management, workforce planning and performance management. It stands to reason that a consideration of this research in mental health issues in the workplace would be advantageous for anyone working in HR. HR departments can develop strategies to prevent, identify and mitigate mental health problems more effectively, they can encourage leadership to embody these strategies and they can ensure their mental health approach is an integrated one. HR mental health policies and procedures should be clear, documented and communicated so there is no ambiguity. An example of a HR policy which could be adopted includes having a number of employees trained in mental health, in the same way that most companies now have First Aid trained staff for physical ailments.
Leadership buy in is integral to the success of HR policies on mental health and have been recognised as a blocker to implementing the same. HR functions can circumvent this through encouraging leadership teams to become champions of HR policies on mental health. They can be prompted by HR to communicate the business stance on employee wellbeing to ensure employees recognise that this is important to the organisation. HR as a function needs to ensure it itself has the resources and time to effectively implement its strategies in this area. Emphasising the importance of these needs to the leadership will help ensure they have the resources they need to dedicate to these processes.
These are just two areas of consideration for HR functions. A third, and imperative consideration, however, is that whatever approach is invested in, you make sure it is an integrated approach. Dr Jill Miller, the CIPD’s research advisor recommends ‘For HR, the question has to be whether wellbeing is part of your people approach or a bolt-on. Think creatively’. Ultimately a bolt-on will not be embedded in an organisation in the same way as integrated approach, and therefore impact will be minimal in comparison.
As John Train put it succinctly in an article for Agency Central ‘Just how important is HR and its functions when trying to combat mental health in the workplace? In short, it's fundamental.’ Although the financial benefits of these mitigation methods have not yet been quantified, research in this area is only growing, as companies can’t afford to ignore it any longer. We may yet see that £105bn cost to the UK economy lower as more and more HR functions develop an integrated strategy to mental health in the workplace, which is supported by leadership teams.