Following our previous blogs on the Stephenson/Farmer report, this post looks at some more of the hard facts from the report associated with mental health conditions in the workplace and their causes.

First of all, it should be noted that “mental health at work” encompasses not only problems caused by or at work, despite what it says on the tin, but also those issues brought to work from other aspects of the employee’s life. This widely varying set of causes can make mental health issues very complex to deal with.

The premise of the report is that “good work is good for mental health”. Good work includes having a degree of autonomy, fair pay, some form of work-life balance, opportunities for progression and an absence of bullying and harassment. The approach taken by the UK Government is to tackle mental health, whatever its source, based on three different groups of people: i) those who are thriving; ii) those who are struggling; and iii) those who are ill and possibly off work. The idea is that this will address the fact that although any employee can have serious mental health issues from time to time, with the right support, he can still thrive at work.

The report points out that for many, mental health is not the only problem. A quite remarkable statistic from the ONS 2016/17 survey shows that 71% of long-term mental health conditions are present alongside other physical long-term health conditions and equally those with long-term physical health conditions are two or three times more likely to experience poor mental health. Therefore, it is important that these two issues are combined and considered together.

The statistics are not all doom and gloom, however. The good news is that 1.5 million people in the UK with a diagnosed long-term mental health condition are in employment, a level which has increased from previous years. Clearly employers are gradually overcoming the stigma associated with mental health issues. However, those with mental health problems are still far more likely to lose their jobs every year (6% of the employed population and around 300,000 a year) at around double the rate of those without any such condition (3%) and at a much higher rate than those with a physical health condition only (4%). This may be because of inadequate or inappropriate adjustments made by the employer; because the employee either is not (or thinks that he is not) being listened to by his employer; or because the stigma still associated with mental health has meant that the employee has felt unable to raise the issue with his employer in the first place.

The costs of mental health issues in the workplace, as we have seen in our “Thriving in work – Part 2” blog, can be astronomical (as much as £1,205-£1,560 per year per employee). In contrast, the return on investment in this area can be quite significant (on average, £4.20 for every £1 spent). The report therefore suggests that if employers and Government could work together to reduce the turnover of those with mental health problems to the same level as those with physical health conditions, this would prevent around 100,000 people leaving employment each year.

So what is the real root of the mental health turnover problem? The most common perceived “sins” by employers as suggested by the report are as follows:

  1. Missed opportunities to intervene early – only 11% of employees asked had discussed a mental health problem with their line manager and 50% said they would not want to discuss it.
  2. Employers not being transparent about their attitude to mental health – only 11% of the top 100 companies have disclosed their mental health initiatives.
  3. A lack of awareness on the part of employers of how to promote good mental health and of where to find external support – only 4 in 10 organisations have policies or systems in place to support their employees.
  4. Employers not regularly monitoring and assessing mental health – 8 in 10 employers report no cases of employees disclosing a mental health condition.
  5. Employers want to do the right thing but line managers lack training, skills or confidence – only 24% of managers have received training on mental health at work.

Given the increasing prevalence of mental health issues and the Government’s current focus on it, these statistics highlight how important it is for companies to do their bit to help tackle the problem. Now would be a good time to consider any mental health initiatives that you could implement within your organisation. It is clear that promoting awareness within the company, including training your managers to deal head-on with mental health issues and the stigma that surrounds them, can make a significant difference to the workplace. That is, not only to the culture, the productivity of the workforce and the costs associated with sickness due to mental health issues, but also to the employees who have mental health issues and to their colleagues supporting them. It is all very well having robust policies in place to deal with these issues, but without the means to enforce them and the active support of management, it can be very easy to let these fall by the wayside.