Most, if not all, employers will require to deal with mental health issues in the workplace at some point. A new report, "Thriving at Work", has been produced by the Government with a focus on how employers can better help with this challenge and create healthy working environments.
The report estimated that 300,000 people with a long term mental health problem lose their jobs each year. In addition, around 15% of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition.
As the report highlights, this has significant impact on productivity, employee retention and cost to the employer. The cost was estimated to be in between £33 billion and £42 billion per annum, with over half of the cost coming from 'presenteeism' – where individuals are in work but less productive because of poor mental health, and additional costs from sickness absence and staff turnover. Similarly, the cost also affects the Government - between £24 billion and £27 billion in providing benefits, falls in tax revenue and costs to the NHS.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. Deloitte’s analysis of the case studies where investments have been made in improving mental health show an overwhelmingly consistently positive return on investment. The average return per £1 spent was £4.20 (with a range of between 40p and £9). However, this requires high quality investment of employers into mental wellbeing, opening communication, training of managers and HR staff. Many employers have a general lack of awareness of how to promote good mental health and only 4 in 10 organisations have the policies or systems to support employees.
This may not be that simple, but the report provided recommendations on how employers in the public and private sector can take steps to improve their support for employees with mental health issues. The report suggested that the public sector, along with the Government, should lead the way in achieving a more positive environment for workers with mental health problems.
One of the recommendations was for the Government to set clearer expectations of employers through legislation, and make Statutory Sick Pay more flexible to better support people with mental health problems to make voluntary phased returns to work where appropriate. In addition, it was recommended that senior leads across the public sector, such as Secretaries or Chief Executives, have a performance objective relating to ensuring the mental wellbeing of all employees, and accountability for adopting the ‘mental health core and enhanced standards'.
Recommendations for employers - six mental health core standards
The report looked to studies on work life balance in Denmark, Norway and Sweden to learn about their approaches. The report recommended all employers should adopt six ‘mental health core standards’ that lay basic foundations for an approach to workplace mental health. These are:
- Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
- Develop mental health awareness among employees
- Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
- Provide your employees with good working conditions
- Promote effective people management
- Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.
Each employer should consider tailoring these standards to their individual workforce and their needs.
Over the long term the report suggests that employers should go beyond these core standards to have an enhanced view on mental health at work with better transparency and accountability with support available in digital form (such as Wellness apps), Occupational Health or Employee Assistance Programmes, and NHS services.
With more understanding of mental health issues, and – according to Deloitte's analysis – a financial as well as moral imperative to support employees, employers should consider the terms of the report and assess how they can improve their practices to better support employees.
You can read the report here:
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If you have employees that are on long term sick leave or are returning after a period of absence, please get in touch for advice on how to manage their return to work or help with work related stress.