Why workplace mental health is a priority for all of us

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This month we want to tackle the subject of workplace mental health. It’s one we’ve not discussed on this blog before but one we feel believe needs a frank and honest conversation.

Mental health is an important focal point in society and, as with any societal shift, it is impacting the places we work, at all levels.

The senior team here at Barron Williams are from a demographic where we think it’s fair to say we maybe underestimated the importance of or raised an eyebrow at workplace mental health. The ‘get on with it’ generation.

However, if we can play even a small part in helping to break the stigma around mental health in the boardroom, at the senior executive level, and in the wider recruitment sector, then we are willing to try.

It is a difficult conversation. There’s no escaping that. One that many will shy away from. But maybe that’s our biggest problem?

Are we facing a mental health crisis?

We are living in turbulent times, post-pandemic we’re facing an economic crisis and a government in chaos. We have no doubt that can weigh heavy. 

We are in roles where stress and pressure are inescapable. Yes, ’twas ever thus, however, as employers, we have a duty of care to those who work for us too. 

If a member of our team is struggling, what should we be doing? 

Even the boardroom itself is not exempt, but what can we do if we or one of our top team is struggling?

Recent research by the World Health Organisation suggested that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental health or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. 

If only 40 people read this article, then ten of us might need help and support at some point.

A report by The Lancet that looked at global workplace mental health back in 2018 estimated that almost 2 billion people worldwide suffer from mental disorders, it is on the rise in every country in the world, and they estimated that it could cost the global economy a staggering $16 trillion by 2030. Workplace mental health has a cost.

We would assume those numbers have risen post-COVID too. There’s no doubt in our mind that pre-existing mental health challenges will have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

An article in HR Review looking specifically at workplace mental health in the UK highlighted that:

“Nearly a third of UK businesses say that mental health is now a bigger issue among employees than physical illness.”

It goes on to quote Bupa UK, who suggests:

“Over the last decade, Bupa has seen the number of employees covered by its health insurance claiming for mental health treatment double.”

And that a study by the Research1 Foundation identified that of those businesses they spoke to:

“Mental health is now a priority at board level for almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of businesses, rising to 72 per cent among large corporates.”

We know mental health issues are at epidemic levels and rising, so we are left asking are those percentages high enough? We would say not even close. 

And it is also worth stressing that whilst there is likely a significant impact on productivity and the bottom line, that is not the primary reason why businesses should be making workplace mental health a priority.

The important short-term issue, of course, however, surely our support should be simply focussed on employee health and wellbeing? Long-term, what’s most important for us all?

You might even think this is us being ‘woke’. If woke means we are “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues”, then, yes, we are. 

We have our eyes open and we are prepared to listen and talk. And if you have got a problem with ‘woke’, we’ll say bye now.

What is mental health?

Let’s be honest, everyone has mental health and, like physical health, it fluctuates along a spectrum. 

It can vary from good mental well-being to severe mental health problems, and our jobs can have a huge impact on our mental health and well-being.

Poor mental health can include struggling with low mood, stress or anxiety, and a mental health problem is generally defined as when poor mental health continues for a prolonged period. 

There may or may not be a diagnosis of a specific condition but common mental health conditions include depression, anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders and bipolar.

Mental health charity, Mind has a helpful list of mental health conditions if you or someone you know/work with who has been diagnosed and is looking for information on the diagnosis, treatment options and where to go for support.

Work-related stress is a form of poor mental health too, defined by the HSE as a “reaction to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on an individual at work”. 

Stress can be a significant cause of illness, and it is one we have to manage carefully, both our own and those around us.

Are employers in the UK acting on mental health in the workplace?

At a time when the NHS is under immense pressure, what more needs to be done? 

Is mental health underfunded in the UK and what impact is the current economic crisis and the current government likely to have on it in the future? 

Would you be surprised if funding is cut further? There are good reasons to be pessimistic 

Access to mental health resources and attitudes about workplace mental health are certainly improving but we should (and could) be doing more.

Employee well-being continues to rise up the corporate agenda, and as a progressive recruitment firm, we are producing an article such as this to help remove the stigma and encourage open conversation.

The government’s Thriving At Work review into mental health highlighted that:

“Poor workplace mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, with an annual cost to the UK economy of between £74 billion and £99 billion.”

The study led to the conclusion that there’s a clear stigma surrounding workplace mental health and it is preventing open discussion on the subject. Time for a change?

It goes on to say that the UK is facing a significant mental health challenge in the workplace and that: 

“While there are more people at work with mental health conditions than ever before, 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year, and at a much higher rate than those with physical health conditions.” 

If people are afraid to admit they are struggling and we are not even talking about it, how can we address the elephant in the room?

This is clearly a management issue.

Is this a case of people worrying they will be treated differently from others? There is still a stigma attached.

The workplace is nothing if not highly competitive, particularly at the exec level. 

Should you need to be bold to risk telling others when you’re struggling? Or is the emphasis on line managers and those that need to be aren’t trained to spot if a colleague is in need of help? 

Trust is always a two-way street, those who work for us need to have confidence in our skill to help, as well as genuine understanding.


A recent report by the CIPD into Health & Wellbeing at Work (see video above), highlighted in their 2021 white paper that as a result of the pandemic organisations that increased their well-being budget will benefit long-term from it:

“Most organisations are taking additional measures to support employee health and wellbeing in response to COVID-19, most commonly through providing more tailored support to address individuals’ needs and concerns, an increased focus on employees’ mental health, and new or better support for people working from home.”

However, their 2022 report suggested that there’s been a small dip in activity to address workplace stress compared with last year:

“Fewer organisations are taking action to increase awareness of mental health issues or to identify mental ill health among staff who work remotely.” 

However, they do go on to say that:

“The vast majority of organisations are taking action to support employee mental health at work, most commonly through employee assistance programmes, phased return to work or other reasonable adjustments, or access to counselling services.”

To us, it just doesn’t feel enough though, especially as the pandemic often feels forgotten too. Have the lessons been learned? Does your “package” of support go far enough?

It needs to become embedded in the culture, though that, of course, can take time.

If we are looking at it in terms of talent retention, we not only want to keep our best people, we want to keep them happy and motivated, and surely that needs the right support channels in place, be it training or safe reporting.

To better identify and de-stigmatise mental health in our organisations, then we need to have the means to do so. 

We have in fact a legal responsibility to do so, which is a good thing in itself, of course.

Mental health, just like physical is a key part of an employer’s implied duty of care. 

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, we have a statutory duty to ensure that employees are not exposed to unnecessary risk, both physically and mentally.

Are you taking “reasonable” steps? 

Failure to do so could lead to legal action. 

Under the Equality Act of 2010, an employee could be defined as “disabled” by virtue of their mental health if it has a substantial long-term impact on their ability to perform their role.

If you fail to engage with these issues, then you leave yourself open to the risk of a disability discrimination claim.

To put it frankly, outdated attitudes to mental health simply have no place in the modern workplace.

What can be done in the recruitment industry?

We have used “we” a lot, and that is because our industry has an important part to play too. 

Stress and anxiety could potentially occur in our own organisation, our clients and the candidates we are seeking to place. 

Despite some of the misconceptions that we as an industry are sales-driven and candidates are just a CV on a database, many of us get into this sector to genuinely help people find new roles.

That said, we are in a highly competitive field, working on a daily basis with highly driven individuals, and it can be easy to miss the signs of stress. 

We have seen our fair share of stress and anxious people in various situations.

Client pressure to find talent quickly can be intense, combine that with the fact you are critical to potentially changing a candidate’s life one way or the other. They are some high-stakes and responsibilities.

As an industry and as employers we too have a duty of care. 

We need to better support mental well-being and ensure we have policies and procedures to protect and support not only those who work for us but our candidates too.

Mental health can not be taken for granted, and it’s important to seek help if we are struggling or support those that are. 

By being proactive and taking the relevant steps, such as training, for example, we can ensure we foster a better environment.

The recruitment industry, like any other, is both demanding and stressful. 

Here at Barron Williams, our aim is to raise awareness, and by helping our clients and candidates make the necessary changes, hopefully, we can work towards creating a more positive and open environment for all.

What can we do to change perception and eliminate the stigma around workplace mental health?

Mental illness may be much more complex, but it can be treated just like physical health. 

A study by the Huntsman Mental Health Institute at the University of Utah established that:

“When we treat mental health as choices that can be controlled rather than as medical conditions that can be managed and treated, we isolate those suffering and create an atmosphere of blame and shame.” 

They go on to stress that:

“A healthy mind is an inherent part of a healthy body. We must move past the existing stigma and see physical and mental health equally.”

We have to move past the stigma, from other people, and our own. 

Acknowledging a problem with mental health is not a sign of weakness but one of strength. 

We need to be honest and able to say we need help. Open up.

The reason for this article is to help break that stigma. Again, open up.

By speaking out, Barron Williams is saying that it’s OK to not be OK but please don’t be afraid to speak up and seek help.

To our clients, we would ask that you look at incorporating workplace mental health training and make it a part of the culture in your organisation. 

If the support and understanding are there, the less impact it will have on your business. Take it as seriously as you would any other business issue.

At the senior executive level, we must take a holistic approach to health and well-being, and use our influence as leaders to make the necessary changes.

Moving forward from this article, we hope to do this by:

  1. Look to create an open dialogue and a safe platform to help people to speak up.
  2. Increasing awareness and promoting ways that our clients can offer employee assistance programmes and staff training.
  3. Look at ways we can help tackle the causes of workplace stress, anxiety and depression. 
  4. Implement our own systems and controls to monitor mental health here at Barron Williams.
  5. Foster a supportive environment for all our clients and candidates

Final point… Good mental health always starts with “you”. 

Be aware of the challenges you face in your work life and take steps to protect your mental health. 

Take breaks when you feel overwhelmed, and take time for yourself outside of work. That work/life balance is critical. 

Remember to stay connected with your friends and family too, and never be afraid to reach out for help if you are struggling.

If you do feel like you’re struggling, and have nobody you can talk to, then please speak to us or reach out to a professional organisation:

If you’re looking to work with a team dedicated to helping you find the right people to fulfil those crucial roles for your organisation, please use our Client Upload Form or call us today.

If you’re looking to find or apply for a new role, then please feel free to Upload Your CV or call us for an exploratory conversation.

And if you’re not already, please don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter!

Barron Williams

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