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MENTAL HEALTH | FOCUS

illness. Incredibly, all but three of the 50 business leaders questioned admitted that their organisation had an issue with mental health prejudice although the vast majority were attempting to address the problem. In recent months there are signs that the taboo around mental health at work is lifting. However, while there is a greater willingness to discuss problems related to stress and anxiety, conversations about depression in the workplace remain difficult. Increasingly, employers are mobilising to address mental health at work, based on the recognition that early intervention and prevention is the most effective and cost-efficient approach. The most visible result has been an enormous increase in mindfulness and other stress-management programmes (see box, below). With the charity Mind recently condemning public spending on mental health as ‘unacceptably low’ (it is just 1.4% of the total health budget), investment by employers in education and preventative measures is undoubtedly welcome. In October, the first European Business Leadership Forum to Target Depression in the Workplace was held in London. The forum – backed by senior executives from some of the world’s largest companies including BT, Barclays and Unilever – launched a business charter, setting out six

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principles of workplace best practice to reduce instances of depression among employees. At the launch event, former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell said: ‘This charter is an important step towards validating workplace policies and practice so we know what really works when supporting employees who are dealing with the effects of depression.’ This follows on from the City Mental Health Alliance, set up in 2013 to encourage employers and employees to talk about mental health issues more openly. Its goal is to ‘create an environment in the City where mental health is discussed in the same way as physical health’. KPMG is a founder member, and Deloitte and PwC have also signed up.

An expensive business

This new openness is partly a result of more liberal times but there is also hard business reasoning behind it. Depression is, to put it bluntly, expensive for employers. Bill Wilkerson, chairman of the Business Leadership Forum and executive chairman of Mental Health International, hit the nail on the head when he wrote in a foreword to a Business Leadership Forum report: ‘Depression is… the principal source of workplace disability, attacking the individual’s ability to concentrate and work productively. Today’s brain-based economy puts a premium on cerebral skills, in which cognition is the ignition of productivity and innovation. Depression attacks that vital asset.’ The cost to business is difficult to estimate accurately but is certainly considerable. The City Mental Health The number of high-profile organisations exploring the meditation-based Alliance puts the annual cost to UK technique of mindfulness as a way of improving employee well-being employers at £26bn a year, while and stress management has increased enormously in the past year. Many a recent report by the Business businesses have introduced mindfulness training into their resilience Leadership Forum argues that ‘mental and well-being programmes, as well as encouraging employees to use disorders wipe out 4% of the European meditation apps such as Headspace. economy year in and year out’. To boil a complex theory down to its essentials, mindfulness encourages A study by the European Depression you to pay attention to the present moment, without judgment, enabling Association (EDA) found that one in you to escape your in-built reactive response to pressure and demands. 10 workers in Europe has taken time There is a growing body of scientific evidence that suggests that off as a result of depression, with mindfulness training is an effective way of changing our innate response the average absence being 36 days to stress, reducing anxiety, improving resilience, increasing well-being and per episode. An equally big problem, developing greater emotional intelligence. though, is workers who struggle on at Mindful business coach Palma Michel of BeYoCo says some of the work through their depression. The EDA biggest mental health benefits come from functional and structural changes found that employees with depression in the brain, which are responsible for attention, positivity, self-awareness who remain at work reported lost (including emotions and negative thought patterns) and resilience. While productivity time of an average of she warns that mindfulness training is not ‘a panacea for depression’, she 5.6 hours per week. says it is a powerful support tool in combination with other interventions. In the UK, it is estimated that 1.5 ‘The thing about modern life is that pressure and demands won’t times as much working time is lost go away and we are often not in control of the circumstances we find through this ‘presenteeism’ as it is ourselves in,’ she says. Michel warns that mindfulness should not be used from depression-related absenteeism. as a sticking plaster over the real stressors at work but rather applied to Since presenteeism is a phenomenon create mindful cultures, including changing the way we approach meetings, most likely to be seen in senior staff, deadlines, emails and communication. the costs can quickly escalate.

MINDFULNESS

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ACCOUNTING AND BUSINESS

AB UK – January 2015  

AB UK (excluding Ireland) – January 2015 issue of Accounting and Business magazine (Published by and copyright of ACCA). The cover feature...

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