How to thrive at work – are you facing a ‘mental health challenge’ in your workplace?

This week ‘Thriving at Work’, an independent report commissioned by the Prime Minister, has been published. Co-authored by Paul Farmer (Chief Executive of mental health charity Mind) and Dennis Stevenson (former HBOS chair), the report sends a clear message to employers that a change in attitude is needed. Specifically, it calls on the Government to adopt 40 recommendations – including legislative reform.

What does the report say?

Claiming that the UK is ‘facing a mental health challenge at work, that is much larger than we had thought,’ the report points out that:

  • up to 300,000 people with long-term mental health issues leave their jobs every year (it is noted, however, that this statistic could include the same individual twice if they move around employment);
  • around 15% of employees have symptoms of an existing mental health condition; and
  • the UK economy spends around to £99bn every year due to employees that are ‘less productive, less effective, or off sick’ because of poor mental health.

Paul Farmer highlights the ‘crucial’ role that employers must play, with the report alluding to the fact that ’employers are perhaps able to have the greatest impact and scope to make an impact’, being in the unique position of being able to ‘create a positive and supportive workplace culture themselves free from stigma’.

As well as this, the report recommends that employers adopt what are described as ‘mental health core standards’ – a framework for a set of actions which can be implemented across all workplaces ‘quickly’ and at little or no cost. These mental health core standards emphasise the need for:

  • producing, implementing and communicating a mental health at work plan;
  • developing mental health awareness among employees;
  • encouraging open conversations about mental health and the support available;
  • ensuring employees have a healthy work-life balance and opportunities for development;
  • promoting effective people management through line managers and supervisors; and
  • routinely monitoring employee mental health and wellbeing.

Does the size of the company matter?

In short, no… but the report recommends an enhanced set of standards for employers with over 500 employees, as well as greater transparency and tailored in-house mental health support from employers who ‘can and should do more to lead the way.’

It also asks the Government to consider amending legislation and guidance, such as the Companies Act. This would encourage employers to report on workplace mental health through channels such as their website.

Employers will also want to keep a keen eye on recommendations in the report for the government to consider legislative change ‘to enhance protections for employees with mental health conditions, particularly fluctuating mental health conditions’ and calls for clarification of the role of employers in providing reasonable adjustments. The report does not limit the potential for legislative reform, recommending that the government considers ‘what more it can do to require employer compliance with existing equalities and employment laws’.

What about the self-employed?

There’s no denying that the working world is getting ever more flexible. That’s why it’s good to see this report consider the changing nature of many workplaces, with many people now employed by the so-called ‘gig economy.’ Because of this, the authors of the report have stated that they have sought to ensure that their recommendations can be adopted by all companies – regardless of the size or type of workplace. Similarly, they have considered the findings of the recent Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, which states that there should be ‘good work’ for all. For online platforms with large reach amongst self-employed workers, the report recommends that they make connections with NHS-approved health and wellbeing support to provide advice that can be accessed by those working through their technology.

What else does the report recommend?

Whilst some of the report’s 40 recommendations are focused on the public sector, the vast majority is likely impact on all UK businesses in some way. In addition to those mentioned above, other recommendations include:

  • specific recommendations for industry groups, professional bodies, insurers and workplace regulators to all support employers on tackling workplace mental health;
  • calls on the Equality and Human Rights Commission to take a more proactive role in monitoring and taking action against employers that discriminate against individuals on mental health grounds, and the Health and Safety Executive to revise its guidance in order to raise employer awareness of their duty to assess and manage work-related mental ill-health;
  • the formation of a mental health online information portal, co-produced by the voluntary, public and private sectors, to promote best practice and enable employers of all sizes to implement the mental health core and enhanced standards;
  • calls on the government to align the fragmented occupational health and practical support available currently from Access to Work, the Fit for Work Service and other NHS services to create an integrated in-work support service to better support the needs of those with mental illness, and other physical health conditions and disabilities; as well as protecting and promoting the current tax relief for employers to invest in the mental health of employees whilst exploring alternatives to potentially incentivise employers to implement the mental health core standards; and
  • a recommendation for public bodies to encourage their suppliers to implement the mental health core standards.

What’s next?

Whilst the report is simply making ‘recommendations’ at present, employers need to start taking action. The Prime Minister has made it clear that mental health is a priority on her agenda and the government is said to be considering the legislative changes suggested.

Aside from the report, mental health is a rising issue  – and one that employers need to tackle right now. Recently, ACAS issued guidance on mental health in the workplace for employers and, as the Prime Minister has commented, ‘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 well-being’.

If you’re affected by any of the issues raised above, you can contact Alison for expert advice here.

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