As you may know, this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, so here we take a look at the impact of mental health issues on working life in the UK and how organisations can respond positively to this challenge.

Mental health is a serious issue for the UK – last year’s Thriving at Work report estimated that poor mental health costs the economy up to £99bn per year, linking mental health challenges with the UK’s relatively low productivity. It is estimated that one in four people will experience mental ill health in any given year, yet stigma remains, leading many of those who take time of work due to stress and mental ill health to give other reasons for their absence. It has been calculated that mental health issues force 50% more people to quit their jobs than physical problems. Organisations have a duty of care to look after the health and safety of their staff, but it is clear that we still have a long way to go in ensuring that this extends to mental wellbeing.

As entrepreneur Richard Branson advised, “Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your business,” and many organisations are beginning to recognise the value of taking a proactive and positive approach to mental health to improve productivity and staff retention. An analysis by Deloitte suggested that workplace interventions in mental health could generate a return of between £1.50 and £9 for every pound spent, so it clearly makes good business sense to engage with mental health in the workplace.

So how can organisations approach this challenge? At the heart of the issue is the importance of being open and positive, ensuring that staff at all levels feel able to communicate openly about mental health rather than fearing negative reactions from others, particularly superiors. Andrew Neal, group HR director at the marketing organisation Communisis, warns against a top-down approach, instead recommending enlisting staff from across all levels as mental health ‘ambassadors’ to promote open communication and provide a listening ear.

Organisations also have a key role to play in promoting mental wellbeing among their staff. Mark Winwood, director of psychological services at AXA PPP healthcare, recognises the impact of physical health and activity on mental wellbeing and advocates promoting a healthy lifestyle by ensuring nutritionally balanced options are available at staff canteens and providing bike racks, showers and changing rooms to encourage employees to run or cycle to work.

Another important factor in mental wellbeing is our response to stress, and organisations can have an impact here too by promoting a culture of resilience, helping employees to develop strategies to deal with challenging situations and problems. Cerulean’s learning lunch, When the Going Gets Tough, is an informative and enjoyable way to develop resilience and a positive approach to challenge in your organisation.

On average, workers in the UK spend more time at work than those in any other European country, but awareness is growing of the importance of maintaining a sensible work-life balance, especially given that despite our long-hours culture, our productivity is comparatively low. Leaders and managers within organisations can lead by example here by ensuring that they leave work at a sensible hour and limit calls and emails outside office hours. Organisations can also promote work-life balance by being open to flexible working arrangements, which have been shown to have an overall positive effect on employee performance.

Mental Health Awareness Week presents the perfect opportunity to reflect on what your organisation is already doing to promote and develop wellbeing in the workplace and consider how you can help to develop a culture of openness and positivity around mental health issues, not only for the benefit of staff but for your organisation as a whole.