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Mental Health in the Workplace

re;mind’s takeaways from this year’s Health & Wellness at Work Conference

Mental health at work is climbing higher up the agenda for employers. It’s gradually becoming less stigmatised and more widely discussed, initiatives such as Mental Health First Aid Training and offering apps or support through EAP systems are becoming more widely adopted, alongside other health and wellbeing initiatives. Yet, despite these efforts, around half of all long term sick-leave is due to mental health challenges and sadly only 10% of employees seek support for their mental health [MHFA England].

In recent years, the collective psyche of society has endured the weight of a significant series of traumatic events, leaving a stubborn mark on many people’s mental health. From the global upheaval shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic to the enduring impacts of war, economic instability, and relentless strain of a cost-of-living crisis, we have collectively weathered an unyielding onslaught of challenges. These events have further contributed to a heightened awareness of our mental health and an increased interest in the importance of our mental wellbeing both at home and within the workplace. 

Drawing from the invaluable insights gained at last weeks’ Health and Wellness at Work conference, we want to shine a light on where trauma fits into the mental health at work landscape. What is the impact of trauma within the workplace? And what can we do to support one another and our employees?

The need to understand trauma in the workplace

Whilst progress has been made raising awareness and addressing mental health in the workplace, there remains a curious blind spot in many mental health support systems – trauma often seems to be the forgotten piece of the puzzle. While initiatives like mindfulness for anxiety and stress management have rightfully gained traction, trauma often lurks in the shadows, overlooked or dismissed altogether. Perhaps it's a lack of awareness or a discomfort with confronting the complexities of trauma, but the reality remains. Countless individuals grapple with the lasting effects of traumatic experiences that have taken place both within and beyond the workplace. Yet they find themselves navigating these challenges without the targeted support they truly need. 

A wide range of distressing experiences can lead to an individual developing trauma, from natural disasters and accidents to violence and childhood abuse. An estimated 50-70% of people will have a traumatic experience at some point in their lifetime. Some will develop trauma, with one in five developing PTSD. Trauma is known to be a significant contributor to specific mental health diagnoses including PTSD, anxiety and depression. While workplace related traumatic experiences such as accidents or harassment can directly affect employees during their work hours, it’s crucial as an employer to recognise that experiences that take place outside the workplace can equally exert a profound influence on an individual’s wellbeing whilst at work. 

People are increasingly discussing sensitive issues within the workplace, from sexual abuse, to how to identify domestic abuse and alcoholism. That these once-taboo subjects are now being discussed, highlights the pressing need to address how organisations best support employees facing the challenges of trauma. 

The need to understand trauma and how it can be supported is particularly important amongst workforces who are exposed to high levels of traumatic events through their work. For example, healthcare workers, emergency service responders, military, journalists, retail workers, prison officers and many others.

The impact on performance and productivity

Employees who suffer with trauma may struggle with intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, poor sleep and emotional dysregulation, all of which can significantly hinder their ability to function at their best, especially in the workplace. 

Beyond its psychological toll, trauma can also manifest in physical health issues. Chronic stress resulting from trauma may contribute to the development of various health conditions, further exacerbating the challenges faced by employees striving to maintain their professional performance.

The effects of trauma can lead to several challenges for both the employee themselves and the employer. Employees may show up for work but not be productive, they may take multiple absences or long-term sick leave, or they may leave the organisation altogether as they struggle with the effects on their wellbeing and daily life. In 2021, employers lost an estimated £56 billion due to presenteeism, absenteeism and staff turnover because of poor mental health, a considerable share of which will be attributable to trauma. Costing employers an average of £1,716 per employee. [Deloitte]

Time to move from generic to specific mental health solutions

To comprehensively address the impact of trauma on employee wellbeing, organisations need to adopt an approach that acknowledges the need for specific solutions. It’s important to support people in both their personal and professional lives with trauma specific tools rather than using generic wellbeing tools. By offering resources and support that extend beyond the confines of the nine to five, employers can empower their employees to navigate the challenges posed by trauma. While many Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) providers offer Critical Incident support, such as training or counselling, there is a need for digital tools which can be accessed by employees 24 hours a day. These tools can be particularly helpful as wrap-around support, both for those waiting for, or receiving professional support. Thus providing employees with support whenever and wherever it is needed.

It's time we acknowledge trauma’s pervasive impact both at home and at work, and to ensure that our workplace initiatives are truly inclusive and equipped to support the full spectrum of mental health challenges.

What mental health support is available in your workplace?

  • Mental Health First Aider

  • Employee Assistance Programme

  • Wellbeing at Work Policy

  • Private Insurance

You can vote for more than one answer.


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