Review into workplace mental health calls for change in culture and legislation

The independent review into workplace mental health, commissioned by the Prime Minister in January and led by Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer, has published its report, Thriving at Work. The review looks at how employers can better support all employees including those with poor mental health or wellbeing remain in and thrive at work. The study found that 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year and that poor mental health costs employers up to £42 billion a year, with an annual cost to the UK economy of up to £99 billion.
The statistics from the Department of Work and Pensions reveal that 300,000 people with a long term mental health problem lose their jobs each year. Analysis by Deloitte, commissioned by the reviewers, also reveals a demonstrable cost to employers, and quantifies for the first time how investing in supporting mental health at work is good for business and productivity. Poor mental health costs the UK economy between £74 billion and £99 billion a year. Deloitte’s analysis shows that the cost to employers is between £33 billion and £42 billion of this number. Evaluations of workplace interventions show a return to business of between £1.50 and £9 for every £1 invested.

Drawing on the accounts of over 200 employers of people with mental health problems and leading experts in mental health and work, Thriving at Work sets out core principles and standards that all employers should commit to. It highlights examples of some employers who are taking positive and innovative steps to support the mental health of their employees.

The reviewers are calling on all employers, regardless of size or industry, to adopt six ‘mental health core standards’ that lay the basic foundations for an approach to workplace mental health. These cover mental health at work plans, mental health awareness for employees, line management responsibilities and routine monitoring of staff mental health and wellbeing. Large employers and the public sector are expected to go even further, demonstrating best practice through external reporting and designated leadership responsibility.

Other recommendations include the creation of an online health and wellbeing portal to help employers access the tools and guidance they need; additional support for small and medium enterprises; the use of digital technology as a means to support those working remotely or in the gig economy; changes to legislation to offer better protection for staff with mental health problems; and measures to ensure that workplace mental health is promoted and enhanced through greater transparency and the role of regulators.

The review makes a number of specific recommendations for Government to support these changes, including implementing them within the public sector, and ensuring the NHS continues to prioritise mental health services enabling individuals to access high quality treatment while maintaining employment.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, the mental health charity, said: “We found that in many workplaces, mental health is still a taboo subject and that opportunities are missed to prevent poor mental health and ensure employees who may be struggling get the support they need. In many instances employers simply don’t understand the crucial role they can play, or know where to go for advice and support.

“The human cost of failing to address mental health in the workplace is clear. Workplace mental health should be a priority for organisations across the UK. Every employer in the UK has a responsibility to support employees with mental health problems and promote the mental wellbeing of their entire workforce.”

Dennis Stevenson said: “In light of the demonstrable impact of poor workplace wellbeing on individuals, employers and the UK economy, we are calling on the Government to accept the recommendations in full, and to introduce the core standards in the public sector. We need the right leadership among employers in the public, private and voluntary sectors, and a mandate from policy-makers to deliver our ambitious but achievable plan. It’s time for every employer to recognise their responsibilities and affect change, so that the UK becomes a world leader in workplace wellbeing for all staff and in supporting people with mental health problems to thrive at work.”

David Sproul, senior partner and chief executive of Deloitte UK, said: “Our analysis indicates the potential impact poor mental health has on UK businesses and the wider economy. It should spur employers into recognising that championing mental health and supporting employees makes good business sense and that inaction comes at a demonstrable cost.”

Commenting on the Stevenson/Farmer Review of mental health and employers, Rachel Suff, Senior Employment Relations Adviser at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, said: “This welcome review shows that the UK is facing a greater challenge than expected when it comes to mental health in the workplace. With one in six people at work affected by mental ill health, a commitment from the Government to address the issues head on and adopt the recommendations will be a clear signal to employers to do the same.

“Mental health can still be hard for us to talk about, and we need to focus on improving the situation at a societal and workplace level. This report highlights the vital role that employers should play in tackling the persistent stigma and promoting inclusive workplaces.

“Creating a healthy workplace is good for people and good for business – employers need to understand the countless benefits of what a healthy and happy workforce can deliver in terms of productivity, retention and engagement. The success of this report will ultimately rest on the willingness of Government, employers and key stakeholders to work together in partnership to deliver long-term and sustainable change.”

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