Small adjustments can make a big difference to employees’ ability to stay in their jobs, experts say

Just one in four (26.2 per cent) people who have had a mental health problem or phobia for more than a year are in work, new analysis has found.

In contrast, four out of five (80.4 per cent) non-disabled people are working, as are half (50.2 per cent) of all disabled people as defined by the Equality Act, according to the study by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The research also discovered that those with depression or anxiety were adversely affected, with just 45.5 per cent of those suffering with either of these conditions for more than a year being in work.

“It’s simply not good enough that so few people with long-term mental health problems are able to stay in work,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady. “Not only is the economy missing out on the skills and talents these workers have, but having to leave your job can worsen your mental health.

“The next government and employers must do more to support people with mental health conditions. Simple steps like giving an employee time off to go to counselling appointments can make a huge difference.”

The TUC is calling on employers to take action to support staff with mental health problems, including making reasonable accommodations to help them carry out their job, and to consult with affected employees to find out what changes would most benefit them.

“A number of mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, can be fluctuating, and so many people often carry on working when unwell,” said Rachel Suff, employment relations adviser at the CIPD. “Often it's relatively small adjustments, such as flexible working or counselling, that are needed to make a big difference to people managing mental health issues at work.

“With such a high proportion of people experiencing a mental health problem at some stage of their lives, employers need to do more to create mentally healthy workplaces to help prevent poor mental health as well as support people when needed.”

Meanwhile, Professor Sir Cary Cooper, 50th anniversary professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, stressed that more needed to be done to identify mental health problems early to prevent them from becoming a long-term issue. He said businesses should either “invest now or really big time pay later”.

Cooper also noted the current economic and political environment meant employees would be particularly vulnerable to stress, not only thanks to the changing nature of work and growing reliance on the gig economy, but also because of the uncertainty caused by Brexit. “People are worried about this, really worried, because of the uncertainty,” he said.

The TUC findings come a day after Office for National Statistics figures revealed that unemployment had reached its lowest level since 1975.

Prime minister Theresa May has already pledged to expand legislation so that it better protects workers with mental health problems should the Conservatives win this June’s general election.

But recent research also suggests workplaces are still falling short on their health and wellbeing offerings. A survey published by insurer Aviva earlier this week found that almost half (43 per cent) of employees believe their boss puts business performance ahead of health. And in a study published in March by charity Mind, a quarter (26 per cent) of employees who described their mental health as poor said work was the main reason.

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