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Thriving At Work

As many as 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year, with poor mental health costing employers up to £43bn a year, the Thriving At Work government-backed review has said. Employers need to recognise they can be proactive by investing in and supporting good mental health.

Employee health and wellbeing – employers need to step up when it comes to supporting mental health

Up to 300,000 people a year lose their jobs each year because of long-term mental health problems, with poor mental health costing employers £43bn a year and the economy as a whole up to £99bn, the government’s Thriving At Work independent review into workplace mental health has concluded.

The review was set up by prime minister Theresa May in January and led by former Chairman of HBOS Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of mental health charity Mind.

Their report Thriving at Work, published in October set out six “mental health core standards” that, it argued, should be the basic foundation around which all employers, regardless of size, should approach workplace mental health.

It also recommended the government develops “a new flexible model for Statutory Sick Pay to better support those with a mental health condition, where willing and able, to return to work on a voluntary phased return and receive wages and SSP on a pro-rata basis.”

Significantly, the government in November accepted this and all 40 recommendations of the Thriving At Work review, in its Improving Lives: the Future of Work, Health and Disability document.

The government also said it would be “encouraging other employers to take forward these recommendations.”

What then, has the review proposed?

Range of mental health standards

The Stevenson/Farmer report recommends that six core mental health standards can and should be embraced by all employers, regardless of size. 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 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.

The report then suggests a further four “enhanced” standards that employers should aspire to. These were:
• Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting.
• Demonstrate accountability.
• Improve the disclosure process.
• Ensure provision of tailored in-house mental health support and signposting to clinical help.

On this final point, the report recommends that in-house mental health support and clinical help could include digital support, employer-purchased occupational health and specialist mental health services, Employee Assistance Programmes or NHS services, among other options.

Taking a multi-faceted approach

The review makes it very clear that mental ill-health is a serious and increasingly costly problem for employers. While it is rarely straightforward to deal with and manage, there are things as an employer, you can and should be doing.

Resilience training, both for employees and managers, training around emotional intelligence and listening, recognising the value of giving employees (within reason) greater control and “ownership” of their working space, role and responsibilities, the value of more flexible, “adult” working patterns and management – all these can help.

Similarly, proactively offering support and interventions – access to EAPs, digital support and coping tools and clinical or occupational health support for more complex cases – can all be beneficial.

But, Andrew Kinder, Professional Head of Mental Health Services at Optima Health and speaker at the Health and Wellbeing @ Work Show argues that “employers also need to recognise that tackling mental ill-health is unlikely to be something you can ever tick off as ‘done’.”

“Supporting your managers and your employees to better manage mental health needs to be an ongoing and multi-faceted process” says Andrew.

“It may mean investing in direct intervention and support tools and training, but also reflecting on what it is about your organisational culture and environment that is potentially acting as a stress or anxiety ‘trigger’, whether that’s hours, workload, autonomy, or management approach.

“But, at the same time, it is also important to recognise that, often, stress and anxiety will be triggered by a range of complex, and overlapping factors, which may be both home and workplace-based,” he adds.