In January 2017 Prime Minister Theresa May commissioned an independent review into how employers can better support the mental health of all people currently in employment, including those with mental health problems. The review - Thriving at Work - found that, while there are more people at work with mental health conditions than ever before, 300,000 people with long term mental health conditions lose their jobs each year. This is at a rate that is significantly higher than for those with no mental health conditions.
Using information based on an independent study commissioned by Deloitte, the review highlights the large annual cost of mental health problems to employers of between £33 billion and £42 billion. Interestingly over half of that cost came from presenteeism - when individuals are at work but are less productive - rather than absence (which was also a contributing factor along with staff turnover cost). The cost to the Government of poor mental health was estimated as being between £24 billion and £27 billion and the cost to the economy as a whole was estimated at between £74 billion and £99 billion per year.
There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel. Deloitte's analysis of case studies, academic meta-studies and the reviews own conversations with over 200 organisations indicated that investment in dealing with mental health shows a consistently positive return.
Bearing that in mind, the authors of the review believe if the appropriate steps are taken it is realistic to aim for:-
- employees in all types of employment having "good work" which contributes positively to their own mental health, society and the economy;
- everyone having the knowledge, tools and confidence to understand and look after our own mental health and the mental health of those around us;
- organisations being equipped with awareness tools to prevent work related mental health problems, to support individuals with mental health conditions and to be aware of how to get access to timely help to reduce absence caused by mental health problems; and
- the proportion of people with long term mental health problems who leave employment each year being dramatically reduced;
and all this could happen within 10 years.
The review sets out a framework of "mental health core standards" - actions which it is believed all organisations in the UK could implement quickly in order to meet these aims. They are as follows:-
- 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 employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development;
- Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors;
- Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.
Additional "enhanced standards" are also set out that would apply to the public sector and private sector companies with more than 500 employees.
It is an optimistic report, despite the problems and costs it identifies. Overall the report contains around 40 recommendations. It remains to be seen how many of those the Government will act upon, and that will likely be a decisive factor in whether or not the 10 year plan for improved mental health in the workplace will be successful.