‘Mental health challenge much larger than thought’: review

A government investigation into mental health and employers finds 300,000 people a year leave their job through mental ill-health, at significant personal and economic cost.

Stressed business person in shadow of office
Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer’s report estimates the economic bill for poor workplace mental health to employers is the region of £33–42bn. Over half of this figure comes from presenteeism, with additional costs from sickness absence and staff turnover.The cost of poor mental health to the government is £24–27bn, including the cost of benefits, lost tax revenue and NHS care. However, the greatest financial loss is the cost to the economy, suggests the review, which loses the country £74–99bn a year. Lord Stevenson, a long-time campaigner for greater understanding and treatment of mental illness, and Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind and chair of the NHS Mental Health Taskforce, made the “inescapable’ conclusions that at a time when there is a national focus on productivity, it is “massively in the interest of both employers and government to prioritise and invest far more in improving mental health.” The publication of the review's findings, Thriving at work: The Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers, comes at a time when a body of evidence is growing around the impact of mental ill-health on globally mobile employees and expatriates. For example, one recent study found that international assignees are more worried about loneliness, alcohol-related illnesses and depression than the general working population.

Public sector picks up better mental health at work challenge

The Prime Minister responded to the findings with confirmation that NHS England and the Civil Service – two of the country’s largest employers – will abide by the 40 recommendations made in the report.NHS England and Civil Service employees will now be guaranteed tailored in-house mental health support. Alongside this, NHS England and the Civil Service will:
  • introduce a set of core and enhanced standards which will ensure employees have the knowledge, tools and confidence to understand and look after their own mental health – and the mental health of their colleagues
  • have support in place to help prevent mental illness being caused or worsened by work and equip those who have a mental illness to thrive
  • be held to account for delivering these standards by their relevant regulators so that employees can have faith they are being introduced effectively. 
The Prime Minister has also written to metro mayors and key business groups including the CBI, IoD and Federation of Small Businesses to draw attention to the review and encourage them to implement the recommendations in their organisations and across their networks.

'Improving mental health as important as improving physical wellbeing'

“I have made it a priority of this government to tackle the injustice of mental illness,” said Prime Minister, Theresa May. “Vital to this is the need to have a comprehensive cross-government plan, which transforms how we deal with mental illness not only in our hospitals or crisis centres but in our classrooms, shop floors and communities.“That’s why I commissioned this important review, which starkly illustrates the cost of untreated mental illness – around 300,000 people with a long term mental health problem are losing their jobs each year.“And that has a big impact on businesses which are losing up to £42 billion each year as a result.“So we need to take action. With so many of our leading businesses leading the way in this area – and reaping the rewards as a result – I am sure that the private sector will follow suit.“It is only by making this an everyday concern for everyone that we change the way we see mental illness so that striving to improve your mental health – whether at work or at home – is seen as just as positive as improving our physical wellbeing.” 
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Business reaction to Farmer/Stevenson mental health and employers review

Representative bodies have responded positively to the government's action and recommendations. Matthew Percival, head of employee relations at the CBI, said: “Improving workplace mental health will help employees feel able to be their best at work. It’s not just the right thing to do, it helps improves business performance too. “The CBI welcomes the review’s business-facing recommendations, as employers need to treat mental health in the workplace with the same seriousness as physical health and safety. Firms know that it is an important issue but many do currently lack the knowledge or confidence to talk about it."With some companies leading the way, the report’s business-led approach, with steps to support businesses as well as employees, is the right one.”Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors, concurred. He called for more action from employers to equip themselves with the knowledge they need to play an active role in tackling the mental health at work challenge:“This report adds some much-needed government backing to the calls for more open conversations about mental health at work. The review rightly highlights the human cost of mental ill-health in the workplace, not to mention the wider impact on businesses and the economy. It shows that mental health is not just a moral issue, but a business one too.“Clearly more needs to be done to ensure that mental health policies and procedures are embedded across the workplace. However, driving change will not simply be achieved through amplifying the government’s voice on this topic. With the amount of time people spend in work, business leaders must put themselves at the frontier of addressing these challenges.“Part of the problem is that not all employers know what they can do. The IoD has been running a campaign for the last year. We’ve seen some great progress with employers increasingly taking their duty of care to their staff more proactively and seriously than ever.”

'Mental health can still be hard to talk about'

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, also commented. She highlighted the significant scale of the issue and the need to tackle the stigma surrounding mental ill health,“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.”For related news and features, visit our Human Resources section. Look out for the launch of 2018's Relocate Awards, entries open in January. Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory  

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