How traditional views of 'performance' are impacting employee mental health
Charlotte Woodward

4 minutes

How traditional views of 'performance' are impacting employee mental health

In this insightful piece, Charlotte Woodward, Guidant Global’s Director of People Services, looks at why we need to take mental health in the workplace more seriously — and how it is incumbent on businesses to lay the groundwork for a more inclusive and tolerant working environment.


Business culture is slowly changing for the better. Data from Business in the Community 2018 found that 71% of respondents feel confident enough to recognise the signs of poor mental health — up 7% since 2016.

Meanwhile, 5% more respondents than in 2016 feel their manager has a genuine concern for their wellbeing (up from 55% to 60%). And last year, KPMG launched new online training on how to support staff with mental wellbeing and mental health concerns. Given the stigma that still surrounds mental health in the workplace, these trends are encouraging.

Despite gradual progress on these issues, businesses are often slow to respond to cultural change. According to the Department of Work and Pensions, poor mental health is said to cost the UK economy between £74bn and £99bn a year. The direct cost to employers stands at an estimated at between £33bn and £42bn. Not prioritising the wellbeing of employees evidently has a negative financial impact.

The business world’s reputation for being unsympathetic towards mental health issues not only continues to persist but has even had the knock-on effect of creating apprehension among those yet to enter the workforce. As research from City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA) shows, 62% of recent graduates are worried about the potential impact of a new role on their mental health.

Such concerns are justified. In many businesses today, employees who manage a huge workload are deemed to be performing positively, regardless of the impact it may be having on their mental health or work-life balance. But as the workforce becomes increasingly mindful of the importance of wellbeing, outdated models of measuring performance are being called into question.

Promoting a more holistic understanding of performance — one which allows employees to develop in areas other than task completion — can help mould a healthier and more motivated workforce. By moving performance reviews away from output alone, firms can create a more sustainable method of working and boost staff retention in the process.

To achieve this, businesses need to create a mental health policy that provides awareness, education and support for all staff. In a recent survey, graduates said they are 83% more likely to apply for a company that is open about its commitment to mental health. When it comes to hiring, such a crystal-clear commitment can often represent the difference between good candidates and exceptional ones.

Of course, businesses with a more traditional view of workplace culture may be sceptical about such an idea, especially if placing a focus on mental wellbeing detracts from the company’s strategic goals. Many businesses fear adopting such a model would lead to a short-term drop in productivity. In the traditional view, less time spent working means fewer tasks are completed.

However, employers would be better served by considering the medium and long-term benefits of improving the wellbeing of employees. Focusing on wellbeing enables firms to promote positive working habits among employees over a longer timeframe and helps avoid risks such as burnout or high staff turnover.

Regardless of a company’s sector or size, initiating an open conversation around employee mental health is a vital step towards forging a business culture in which staff feel comfortable to seek support and take time for themselves. For employers, there can be few more pressing priorities than having a happier, healthier and more engaged workforce.

There’s still much to be done. With data from Business in the Community 2018 showing that 49% of respondents indicating that no resulting changes or actions were taken after they reported a mental health issue, it’s clear that businesses have a duty to take the implementation of a mental health policy seriously. In doing so, leaders can foster a real sense of inclusion, purpose, fulfilment, and autonomy in their company culture.

The future of talent management

Information and statistics in the above article is largely drawn from The Future of Talent Management report, in which expert contributors from the world of HR, tech and talent management — including Guidant Global — explore how today’s organisations are evolving their approach to talent management. The report was produced by Raconteur and published by The Times.

For more on how performance management can impact mental health, complete the form below to get access to the full report.