How to build a business case for organisation-wide mental health training

Tense Discussion Between Team Members
Louise Fernand
Publish Date:
27 Jan 2021
Reading Time:
5 Mins

There’s now greater awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing. Despite this, getting buy-in for organisation-wide mental health training remains an uphill struggle for many.

If this is you, you’re not alone. BITC’s Mental Health at Work Report 2019 shows that while 25% of employers now offer an employee assistance programme, 36% offer nothing. And only 13% of managers and 9% of all employees have attended training that focused only on mental health.

Getting buy-in for mental health training is difficult because it involves a cultural shift, but it’s possible when you appeal to heads and hearts. We look at how to address both to help you achieve a positive mental wellbeing change at your workplace.

Communicate and demonstrate the business costs and ROI of organisational-wide mental health training

When building a case for your budget, credible third party statistics alone are useful but they aren’t enough. It works best when you show why it would work, that it can work and when you appeal to people’s underlying motivations.


Share the true business cost estimations

Many employers don’t fully appreciate the costs of mental health and how it extends beyond paying for or covering absent employees’ wages. Credible statistics such as from Deloitte can help you begin the conversation about why you should invest in mental health training.

  • The total cost to businesses: £43-£45bn.
  • Cost of presenteeism: £27bn - £29bn
  • Staff turnover costs: £9bn
  • Absence costs: £7bn
  • Presenteeism costs around four times the direct absence costs
  • Average cost per employee: £1,652 (but some industries are double that)
  • Proactive training gives an average of £6.30 for every £1 spent


Strengthen your case with internal data

The wider business may not believe that the statistics will apply to your organisation. They may believe that they’re doing enough or that the problem is not so widespread. You can help build a much stronger business case for organisation-wide mental health training using internal data to support your case and show what training would be helpful.

HR data on absences due to mental wellbeing. Absence data definitely helps you show the direct costs, but you could also calculate an estimated cost for presenteeism and staff turnover in your organisation to give a fuller picture.

Employee surveys/focus groups. You can use employee surveys and focus groups to show:

  • How employees feel work impacts on their mental wellbeing.
  • Their awareness of contributing work factors.
  • What support schemes they are aware of.
  • Whether they’ve hidden mental health issues.
  • How well they feel management deals with mental wellbeing.

(You’re likely to get more honest feedback if you use anonymous surveys.)

Data on the take-up of employee benefits and perks. This data can help you show if employees need to be made more aware of any external wellbeing assistance programme (if you offer it) and if budget from other perks or benefits could be reallocated e.g. discounted shopping vouchers that only offer a temporary dopamine spike, not long term happiness.

Line manager surveys/focus groups. These will help you discover how equipped managers feel to have conversations about mental wellbeing, provide support and signpost for help when needed.

Glassdoor surveys (and even social media mentions). These show how employees feel your organisation supports their mental wellbeing and if your approach is damaging your reputation.


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Appeal to people’s underlying motives


When seeking buy-in, it’s often more effective when you can show how investing in mental health training can help them meet the wider aims and objectives of the business or even personal goals.

  • Retaining/winning new business. Being an organisation that can be trusted to do what is right now heavily influences buying decisions.
  • Attracting and retaining top talent. 88% of professionals consider an employer’s mental health policies when looking for a new role, according to a Robert Walters survey of 1200 professionals and hiring managers.
  • Career progression. Being a key driver in a mental health initiative looks good and may open more doors for future opportunities.
  • Legal/insurance liabilities. Breaching legal duties can lead to fines, prosecutions and increased insurance premiums.


Use a pilot study to prove the ROI

Pilot studies take your business case from theoretical to “this will work”. If you enlist firm advocates that already believe in the moral benefits and ROI of mental health training, they'll be passionate about helping you prove your case. And their stories and data will appeal to the hearts and minds of everyone, from leadership to employees.


Making leaders relate to the human cost

At any one time, a sixth of workers were experiencing a mental health problem in 2019. And 2 in 5 employees had experienced poor mental health symptoms where work was a factor in the previous last year.

Even if you’ve built a strong business case, not everyone can relate to long-term issues with mental wellbeing.

People often empathise best when they imagine themselves in a situation that could impact their own mental wellbeing. They may find this easier to do if they try to recall a time where they may have dealt with a difficult situation in their own lives, or witnessed a family member experience a crisis, and then try to remember how that felt.

Even for the most resilient, the recent pressures brought on by COVID-19 and the resulting emotions have highlighted how fragile our mental wellbeing can be. Many are facing financial pressures, feelings of isolation and loneliness, low moods, anger and stress - or they’re close to someone who is. Many have also seen the ripple effects that extend to family and friends, work colleagues, acquaintances and even the wider community and society.

Building a business case for organisation-wide mental health training can be challenging, but it's achievable with the right strategy. If you’re reading this, then you know that now, more than ever, your employees need more support.

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Mental health & wellbeing