Having been commissioned by the Prime Minister earlier this year to lead an independent review into mental health in the workplace, Lord Dennis Stevenson (a mental health campaigner) and Paul Farmer CBE (Chief Executive Officer of Mind and Chair of the NHS Mental Health Taskforce) published their report, Thriving at Work, last month.
Acknowledging the enormous human cost of poor mental health, the report sets out 40 recommendations for employers, regulators, the public sector and the Government to consider.
Noting that employers were the focus of the review because they “are perhaps able to have the greatest impact and scope to make an impact” of any group in society, the report identifies a series of mental health core standards—actions which all organisations, regardless of their size, should be capable of implementing. The report calls on employers to:
- produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan;
- develop mental health awareness among employees;
- encourage open conversations about mental health;
- provide employees with good working conditions;
- promote effective people management; and
- routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.
The report also recommends the implementation of mental health enhanced standards for all public sector employers, and private sector businesses with over 500 employees. These enhanced standards centre on:
- increasing transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting (such reporting to include leadership commitment and an outline of the business’s approach to mental health);
- demonstrating accountability by nominating a health and wellbeing representative at Board level or within the Senior Management team who has clear responsibilities and reporting duties;
- improving the disclosure process in order to encourage openness and transparency during the recruitment process and thereafter; and
- providing tailored in-house mental health support as well as signposting clinical help.
As explored in our previous blog , the UK statistics on mental health are worrying. 70 million working days are lost each year due to mental health illness, costing the economy as a whole around £74 - £99 billion. At least 1 in 4 of us will experience some kind of mental health problem each year, with anxiety and depression being the most common. Only 1 in 3 men feel able to speak openly about their mental health problems in their place of work (as compared with 2 in 5 women).
It should therefore come as no surprise that the focus of the latest report is on making a tangible difference across the employment spectrum.
Whilst recommending that businesses make practical changes on the ground, the latest report also calls upon:
- the Government to amend legislation (such as the Companies Act) to encourage employers to make workplace mental health reports on their website or via other publicly available sources;
- the Health and Safety Executive to revise its guidance to raise awareness of employers’ duty to assess and manage work-related mental ill-health as well as physical ill-health;
- the Equality and Human Rights Commission to take a more proactive role in monitoring and issuing enforcement action against employers that discriminate against individuals on mental health grounds; and
- upon industry groups, trade unions and professional bodies to provide guidance, support, training, and assessments.
Addressing mental health illness in the workplace is squarely on the Government’s agenda. With this in mind, it is likely that businesses will be required to adopt some (if not all) of the report’s recommendations within the next few years.
In any event, even if they are not expressly obliged to do so, employers would be well advised to implement what recommendations they can. It is a matter of best practice, good business sense and, frankly, social responsibility.