The research found that just 19% of organisations have achieved the first core standard in Thriving at Work: The Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers, which asks employers to 'produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan'.
Additionally, almost half (48%) hadn’t made any progress towards this standard despite it being nearly two years since the report was published. And fewer than one in 10 (9%) had met all six of the suggested core standards.
However, most respondents indicated that some action was underway, with just 16% admitting to no progress at all.
The independent review, commissioned by former prime minister Theresa May in January 2017 and released in October 2017, suggested that all UK employers should meet a framework of six core standards to improve their workplace mental health.
These are to: produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan; develop mental health awareness among employees; encourage open conversation about mental health and the support available; routinely monitor staff mental health and wellbeing; provide good working conditions to ensure a healthy work/life balance; and promote effective people management through line managers.
The Howden Benefits research stressed that the final two recommendations should be standard practice for employers. It also highlighted that all organisations should be capable of meeting these standards quickly.
Commenting on the findings, head of benefits strategy at Howden Benefits Steve Herbert said that mental health issues can cause a rise in sickness absence and increased costs for employers: “Poor workplace mental health has long been recognised as a key challenge for companies. It is the main cause of sickness absence in the UK, with estimates suggesting it costs UK employers between £33 billon and £42 billion each year," he said.
“It is therefore surprising that as we approach the two-year anniversary of the Stevenson/Farmer review only a fifth of employers have taken the first steps towards producing a concrete plan to tackle this important issue."
Herbert added: "The first core standard is a vital milestone for any organisation serious about improving its workforce mental health. The fact that so few employers have yet achieved even this level of compliance with the recommendations is indicative of the challenges employers perceive in tackling this often-sensitive issue.”
He added that employers want to tackle poor mental health at work but often lack the resources to do so: “Our experience suggests employers are very keen to take action in this area but often lack both the confidence and support to achieve this aim.
"We would strongly encourage more organisations to urgently seek professional assistance in the planning and implementation of a robust workplace mental health plan and solution.”
The survey was undertaken among an audience of 135 senior HR and finance professionals at a Howden Employment Seminar on 4 June 2019.