Mental health at work: time to take ownership

Health & Safety

Business in the Community report highlights positive actions employers can take

Mental health at work is an issue that every organisation needs to prioritise. With this in mind, principal consultant Julie North has prepared a ‘quick reference’ summary of the recent Business in the Community (BITC) report, Mental Health at Work 2019: Time to Take Ownership, providing a helpful commentary and key recommendations for employers.

Recognising mental health at work: a long way to go

Based on based on YouGov survey data, the BITC report shows that mental health at work is a significant issue – and that organisations still have a long way to go to increase awareness and take positive action to address it. It finds that employers are contributing to poor mental health through a combination of poor working practices and organisational culture.

As the title of the report suggests, BITC believes that now is the time for organisations to take ownership of their contributions to the poor mental health of employees, and take positive action.

3 Key report recommendations

The BITC report has 3 main ‘calls to action’ for employers:

  1. hand held megaphoneCreate good work that enhances mental health for everyone. This goes beyond simply having policies and employee assistance programmes (EAPs) in place.
  2. Acknowledge and support poor mental health at work, whatever the cause.
  3. Report on mental wellbeing performance to fully inform the organisation’s leaders on the reality of the workplace. This can help raise standards and gain support for investment to drive further improvement.

>> Download the full BITC report >>

More specific actions from the BITC report included:


  • Leadership should role model behaviours that promote good mental health.
  • Include mental health in corporate objectives to achieve parity with physical health. Audit mental health risks and create plans to minimise them.
  • Make mental health promotion a core competency of line managers. Equip them with the tools to support their teams by providing comprehensive training. This should include the impact of mental health on work and productivity, recognising and rewarding line managers demonstrating empathy and compassion.
  • Creating clearly defined, employee-led pathways to get support. Many employers have defined musculoskeletal care pathways for an employee with back discomfort (e.g. assessments, adjustments and treatment): there needs to be the same for mental health, which is clearly signposted for ease of access.
  • Define unacceptable and non-inclusive behaviour, raise awareness of it and give clear encouragement to staff who witness such behaviour to report it.
  • Assess if there are aspects of work that can help with poor financial wellbeing, such as contract type and shift work. Raise awareness of resources available, so employees receive financial education and support at the time it is needed.

Further findings on mental health at work

In addition to the recommendations above, the BITC report found that:

  • 30% of the UK workforce have been formally diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in their lives.
  • 51% of people feel comfortable talking generally about mental health issues, compared to 54% in 2018.
  • Just 11% of managers have received training on understanding workplace stressors.
  • 39%, that’s 2 in 5 employees, stated work was a contributing factor to their poor mental health. In both 2017 and 2018, that figure was 36%.
  • Of those people who reported that work contributed to their poor mental health, 52% specifically cited pressure was a contributing factor, 36% stated workload and 24% stated bullying and harassment by their manager.

Positive factors

There is much evidence to suggest that good work and job quality such as job design, relationships at work and working conditions have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing[1]. Conversely, poor work has a negative impact.

office workers sharing pizzaThe BITC report found that poor mental health can stem from outside the workplace. For example, 48% of 18–29 year olds stated they experienced loneliness. Good work could go some way to help address this finding, by allowing people to create friendships at work.

Insights were also sought from specific groups of people and their experiences of poor mental health. Findings were that 79% of LGBT+ people are likely to experience poor mental health where work was a contributing factor, and 30% of black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) employees reported negative behaviour or outcomes due to their ethnicity.

Some progress since previous report

The report included the good news that there has been some progress since the last report in 2018:

  • 41% of employees experiencing poor mental health reported no changes or actions were taken in the workplace, in 2018 this was 49%.
  • In 2018, 11% of people who disclosed a mental health problem reported they had been dismissed, demoted or disciplined. In 2019, this was down to 9%.
  • 62% of managers stated they faced situations where they put organisational interests before the wellbeing of colleagues, whereas in 2018 this was 64%.

Speech bubbleAccess guidance on mental health at work

Contact our health, safety and ergonomics consultants

Information sources and links

[1]Is work good for your health and wellbeing? Gordon Waddell and Kim Burton.

Working for a healthier tomorrow. Dame Carol Black.

Good Work, The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices.

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