• Tim

Mental Health First Aid at Work - The Business Case

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

Stress and poor mental health costs your business in the region of £1,300 per employee, every year. However, simple health and well-being interventions can minimise this cost, generating up to a 9-fold return on investment.

Interested? Then read on...

There's never been greater awareness of the negative commercial impact of stress and poor mental health at work. As well as this, there's increasing awareness of the effects of these issues on the lives of employees, their families, friends and colleagues.

A raft of research and reports from internationally recognised organisations have consistently demonstrated the scale of the problem, and its impact on the bottom line. However, the evidence suggests that many organisations could do more to support their staff, with simple solutions that lead to a significant return on investment.

Stress – good or bad?

When talking about mental health at work, the subject of ‘stress’ is often raised. It’s usually used in a negative sense (distress), but the more enlightened will recognise that positive stress (eustress) is an essential driver of performance and productivity.

However, being overly stressed, particularly for a prolonged period, is a common phenomenon that can lead to poor performance, poor mental health and absence.

Surveys by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Investors in People (IIP) both found that the top causes of stress are workload, poor management and challenging targets (1, 2).

You can read more about stress in the blog How Big is Your Bucket?

The scale of the problem

Some statistics for you…

The general population:

  • One in four people in the UK will have a mental health problem at some point in their lives (3)

  • 37% of those aged 18-29 have been formally diagnosed with a mental health condition (4)

  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide (5)


  • Six per cent of employees have been living with a formally diagnosed condition for more than 10 years (4)

  • Around 15% of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition (6)

  • Stress and mental ill health are the leading cause of long term absence (1)

  • Over a third of workers have considered leaving their job due to stress (2)

So how come we’re not all talking about, and actively supporting people who are experiencing the negative effects of stress or who have poor mental health?


Stigma is a huge problem. If people don’t feel comfortable talking about their mental health, then they’re less likely to get help, and more likely to experience a worsening of their condition. This isn’t good for them, and it’s not great for their employer either.

An old boss of mine used to say ‘energy flows where attention goes’, and this is true of mental health. If organisations are not alerted to a problem, or don’t understand the true size of the problem, then they are unable to mitigate the risk.

What‘s the cost of the problem?

Stress and poor mental health costs UK businesses between £33 billion and £42 billion a year through reduced productivity, high turnover and sickness absence.

This is equivalent to £1,205-£1,560 for every employee in the workforce (6)

These costs are corroborated by the Centre for Mental Health, who calculate a figure of £1,300 per employee. The costs vary between sectors but are clearly significant regardless.

Figure 1 - Private Sector Cost of Mental Health per Employee (6)

For clarity, these costs are not per employee with poor mental health, they are per employee. For example, if you have 1,000 employees, the cost of poor mental health in your organisation could be in the order of £1.2-1.5M per year.

Approximately half of this cost is from ‘presenteeism’ (when individuals are less productive due to poor mental health in work) with the remaining costs from sickness absence and staff turnover (6).

Of course, when staff are less productive, absent, or team members change, this also puts additional stress on the rest of the team, further compounding the problem.

The benefits of investing in mental health

There are clear commercial benefits to investing in the health and well-being of employees.

Specifically, Deloitte (on behalf of the Stevenson/Farmer review) found significant good quality evidence that the return on investment of workplace mental health interventions is overwhelmingly positive. They found that…

The average return per £1 spent was £4.20, with an upper limit of £9 (6)

The CIPD also report clear benefits of investing in health and well-being. These include better employee morale and engagement, a healthier and more inclusive culture, lower sickness absence and improved productivity (1).


The benefits are easy to realise by following simple, evidence based advice.

The HSE detail their management standards for stress, and the Stevenson/Farmer review sets out clear core and enhanced standards for managing the risks associated with mental health. You can read more about them in the blog Mental Health First Aid – What’s That?

If organisations follow this advice, they’ll reap the benefits of a more present, engaged and productive workforce, with lower staff absence and turnover.

However, the reports that have been mentioned throughout this article all recognise one key link.

Line Managers.

Indeed, just under half of line managers are bought in to the importance of well-being (1) and a lack of high-quality mental health training for line managers continues to be a pivotal issue (4).

Organisations where line managers are bought in to the importance of well-being see improvements in morale, engagement, absence and productivity (1).

The views of employees gained from recent surveys are also interesting:

  • Only 36% of UK workers say that their workplace supports mental wellbeing (2)

  • Only 40% of workers reported that they would trust their manager with a mental health concern (2)

  • Only 16% of employees report that they feel able to disclose a mental health issue to their manager (4)

Managers don’t need to be health experts, but they do need to recognise the value of health and well-being at work, be able to spot early warning signs of ill health, have the competence and confidence to have sensitive conversations, direct employees to appropriate sources of help and actively promote good attendance and well-being. This can be a daunting prospect for a line manager who is not adequately equipped to deal with these issues (1).

Fortunately, there’s a simple and effective solution, succinctly put by Investors in People as their top recommendation for employers…

Train your line managers in how to support their team’s mental health (2)

To be most effective however, the training needs to be tailored to the specific needs of your organisation and people. A bog standard course will have some effect, but a bespoke course will maximise the return on investment.

At Custom Training, we partner with organisations to help them achieve their commercial goals. We work with you to understand your goals, as well as your health and well-being environment, so that we can design learning interventions that will have maximum impact.

Expert staff then deliver interactive, contextualised training that efficiently gives line managers the competence and confidence to change the way they manage their staff.

Feedback from our learners demonstrates that staff need and appreciate these interventions:

"The course is great, everyone should participate"

"It was all really good - just what was needed"

"Really enjoyable course, learnt loads"

"I really enjoyed the course and found it extremely useful"


In summary, employee stress and poor mental health continue to be a considerable cost for organisations.

Simple interventions, such as bespoke line manager training, can lead to reduced staff absence, as well as increased performance, engagement and retention. This constitutes a significant financial return on investment, whilst also improving the lives of your employees and their families.

If you’d like to know more, or would like to discuss training for your organisation, please get in touch. Click here to find out more about our Mental Health at Work courses.



1. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), Health and Well-being at Work, 2018

2. Investors in People (IIP), Managing Mental Health in the Workplace, 2018

3. Health and Safety Executive website, Mental Health at Work, 2019

4. Business in the Community (BITC), Mental Health at Work 2018 Report, 2018

5. World Health Organisation website, Mental Health/Depression, 2019

6. Stevenson/Farmer (UK Government), Thriving at Work, 2017