Independent review recommends mental health standards for employers


An independent review into mental health practices in the workplace has recommended six mental health core standards to help employers better support their staff, including employees with poor mental health or wellbeing.

The Thriving at work review, which was commissioned by prime minister Theresa May in January 2017, explores how employers can provide better support to all of their employees to remain in and thrive at work. This includes recommendations on how employers can better assist employees who have poor mental health or wellbeing.

Mental health campaigner, Lord Dennis Stevenson led the review in collaboration with Paul Farmer CBE, chief executive officer at Mind and chair of the NHS Mental Health Taskforce, advising all employers to commit to six mental health core standards in order to form an approach to workplace mental health. These include creating, implementing and communicating mental health at work plans, developing mental health awareness for employees, promoting effective people management through line management, and introducing routine monitoring of employee mental health and wellbeing. The core standards also recommend that employers encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available, and provide employees with good working conditions to ensure they have a healthy work-life balance as well as opportunities for development.

The review which took into consideration accounts from over 200 employers of people with mental health problems, as well as opinions from leading mental health and work experts suggests that larger employers and organisations in the public sector should demonstrate best practice through external and internal reporting and designated leadership responsibility, as well as ensure the provision of tailored in-house mental health support and signposting to clinical help.

Additionally, the review recommends the creation of an online health and wellbeing portal to help employers access the tools and guidance they may need, as well as the provision of extra support for small to medium businesses. The review suggests changes to legislation to offer better protection for staff with mental health problems, measures to ensure that workplace mental health is promoted and enhanced through greater transparency, and looks at the role of regulators. Furthermore, the report also discusses the use of digital technology, and how this can be used as a means to support employees working remotely or in the gig economy.

The final report targets specific recommendations at the government too, such as encouraging the government to implement the mental health core standards across the public sector, as well as ensuring that mental health services are prioritised in the NHS to enable access to treatment while maintaining employment.

Research by professional services firm Deloitte that was featured in the review found that poor mental health costs the UK economy between £74 billion and £99 billion a year, with the cost to employers being between £33 billion and £42 billion. Its analysis also demonstrated a return on investment of between £1.50 and £9 for every £1 invested into mental health workplace interventions.

Paul Farmer (pictured), chief executive at Mind, 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, mental health campaigner, added: “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.”

James Malia, director of employee benefits at Sodexo Engage, said: “Today’s Thriving at work report makes some reasonable recommendations for employers on how to support their staff, but the truth is that more needs to be done and we should stop relying on just the government. Whilst we have come a long way in eliminating the taboo of mental health, talk must turn in to action. Promoting effective people management is simply not enough. Businesses need to invest in intensive training which give these managers the tools and understanding of how to recognise both good and poor mental health. Most of all, if it’s possible to have one or more mental health ambassadors in the workplace who have been through their own challenges, it will immediately encourage more employees to speak out.”

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), 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.

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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.”