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Poor mental health costs 300,000 jobs a year

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An independent review has urged employers and the government to do more on mental health

The UK faces a significant mental health challenge, according to an independent government-commissioned review into mental health at work, whose report was released today.

The review was commissioned in January and was led by former chairman of HBOS Dennis Stevenson and chief executive of Mind Paul Farmer. It features analysis by both Deloitte and the government.

It has found that 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year, and that 15% of people at work have symptoms of a mental health condition.

The report explores the cost to employers of such conditions and advises on employer best practice. It found the cost of mental ill health to UK organisations to be between £33 billion and £42 billion. Half of this cost is a result of presenteeism – when individuals are less productive at work because of their poor mental health – with additional costs resulting from sickness absence and staff turnover.

‘At a time when there is a national focus on productivity the inescapable conclusion is that it is massively in the interests of both employers and government to prioritise and invest far more in improving mental health,’ the report stated.

Rachel Suff, senior employee relations adviser at the CIPD, commented: “This welcome review shows that the UK is facing a greater challenge than expected when it comes to mental health in the workplace. This report highlights the vital role that employers should play in tackling the persistent stigma and promoting inclusive workplaces.”

The report recommends a set of ‘mental health core standards’ – a framework all organisations are capable of implementing quickly, according to the review. 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 also outlines a series of more ambitious ‘enhanced’ standards; including increased transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting, and improving the disclosure process.

On the issue of transparency, the report recommends that the government considers amending legislation and guidance, for example the Companies Act, to encourage employers to report on workplace mental health on their website or other channels. It also states that it ‘welcomes the adoption of workplace mental health indicators in employer rating initiatives'.

"Transparency by businesses is vital to addressing this issue," commented Kathryn Austin, chief people and marketing officer at Pizza Hut Restaurants, a firm that's taken significant steps to support staff mental health, including through training and 'Let’s Chat' meetings with managers.

"Openness and honesty allows it to be front and centre in [our] business and allows people to hopefully ask for and receive the help they need," Austin told HR magazine. "Ultimately it’s about integrating support into your everyday culture, be that your communication, training, coaching or management so no-one ever feels they can’t put their hand up or that they don’t work in a business that will look after them."

Other areas for government action recommended by the report include joining up existing provision, including online information, aimed at employees and employers; and making statutory sick pay more flexible to better support people with mental health problems to make voluntary phased returns to work.