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Monitoring mental health in the workplace

25 June 2015

Monitoring mental health in the workplace


There is growing interest among businesses in monitoring employees' mental health. But who is responsible for this? And how best to achieve it without intruding into personal lives?

The tragic case of Germanwings flight 9525 has brought into focus the issue of mental illness in the workplace. This case, where co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed into the French Alps after hiding a history of mental health issues from his employer, puts into sharp relief just how devastating the consequences of failing to treat ill health can be.

Events such as this are fortunately very rare. But they provide an extreme example of how important it is to tackle mental health problems in the workplace before they develop into something more serious. A report by UK chief medical officer Sally Davies found 70 million working days are lost each year due to stress, depression and other mental health conditions. This costs the UK economy between £70 and £100 billion a year. A separate study by Aon Employee Benefits put mental health as one of the four main risks affecting insurance claims, along with cancer, heart problems and musculoskeletal conditions.

There is, says Louise Aston, wellbeing campaign director at Business in The Community (BITC), a growing interest in evaluating and monitoring the mental health of employees. This was revealed in a one-year-on report following the launch of the Time to Change initiative, spearheaded by BITC, Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

“Evaluation is critically important,” she says. “People are using a combination of things: it could be scores for specific questions in employee engagement surveys, sickness absence data, lost time, injury rates, work-related ill health incidences, the number of line managers receiving mental health and resilience training, or information on flexible working arrangements. But a really easy one is data from employee assistance programmes.” A more formal way to keep track of employees’ mental health is through assessment. These are similar to physical medicals, with results compared against previous scores to identify any changes, for example to stress levels or general satisfaction.

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