Mental health and the workplace

mental health

The impact of stress, anxiety and depression in the workplace is something that organisations can no longer afford to ignore.

A study of more than 440 organisations, looking at the impact of stress anxiety and depression in the workplace, reveals that decreased motivation was a company’s most concerning potential result of stress in the workplace, followed by sickness absence and exhaustion and burnout, all of which clearly have an impact on an organisation’s financial situation and performance.

Although many companies are recognising the impact that stress, anxiety and depression can have, one-third of the organisations that responded to CiC’s Stress, Anxiety and Depression (SAD) Index said they were unconvinced that their organisation was doing enough to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing support in the workplace, with 36% reporting that the measures that they did have in place were not easily understood and accessible to staff.

Despite some companies being undecided when it comes to creating a sustainable plan that addresses the impact of stress, anxiety and depression in the workplace, there is a great deal that individual managers can do to maintain and promote health and wellbeing in the workplace of themselves and their team members.

Stress arises where work demands – whether that’s insufficient job design, role description and workload – exceed an individual’s capacity and capability to cope. The consequences can be varied, from high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and human error to low morale and engagement. The extent to which we cope with this stress as individuals depends on our character, the resources available to us and what else is happening in our life.



Whilst we all need a certain amount of stress to live well, it becomes a problem or distress when there’s too much or too little. A lack of stress means your body is under stimulated, leaving you feeling bored and isolated while on the other hand, too much stress can result in a range of health problems including headaches, stomach upsets, high blood pressure, and even a stroke or heart disease. It can also cause feelings of distrust, anger, anxiety and fear which in turn can destroy relationships at home and at work.

When it comes to managing employees with mental health issues, including the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, managers need to be confident and approachable, and recognise some of the signs that an individual might be struggling with their mental health and implement some of the following tools and management techniques:

  • Hold regular and informal one-to-one meetings and catch-ups to demonstrate your approachability and offer opportunities for sensitive issues to be discussed. Ensure meetings with employees are held where you have privacy and employees feel comfortable.
  • Encourage people to talk with simple, non-judgemental questions, such as ‘how are you doing right now’ or ‘is there anything I can do to help’. Listen to employee’s responses without judging or jumping in too quickly to offer advice because it can be hard for an employee to admit that they are struggling and need support.
  • Be empathic, it is ok to say something like ‘that must be hard for you’ or ‘sorry you are finding things difficult’ rather than immediately trying to fix the problem. It’s also important not to make assumptions about how the employee feels because everybody’s experience is unique and individual. You may have had similar experiences but they won’t be quite the same.
  • Be honest and clear about any concerns you have, like impaired performance or high levels of absence. It is important to deal with these early on, but in doing so assure the employee that issues will be dealt with confidentially and that any information they share will be treated sensitively and given to as few people as possible.
  • Negotiate an action plan together, identifying what the employee’s stress triggers are – such as tight deadlines, getting to work on time or meeting with clients – and the potential impact of these on their work, the support they need and who they should contact if things get too much.
  • Agree to review the action plan with your employee periodically and remind them that they can approach you again if they need to. In the meantime, encourage the employee to seek support from their GP, employee assistance programme or their family and close friends.

To find out more about CiC’s Stress, Anxiety and Depression Index, request your copy of the research summary here.