Last week saw the release of the much-anticipated Stephenson Farmer Review ‘Thriving at Work’, a review of mental health for employers.

What were the key findings?

The study concludes that underneath the stigma that surrounds mental health and prevents open discussion on the subject, the UK faces a significant mental health challenge at work.

300,000 people with a long term mental health problem lose their jobs each year, at a much higher rate than those with physical health conditions.

Behind this, their analysis shows that around 15% of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition. This then has a massive knock-on effect to all aspects of the person’s life and can even result in suicide.

They estimate the cost to employers of between £33 billion and £42 billion (with over half of the cost coming from presenteeism – when individuals are less productive due to poor mental health in work) with additional costs from sickness absence and staff turnover. This is estimated at around £1,500 per employee (that’s all employees).

Furthermore, the cost of poor mental health to Government is between £24 billion and £27 billion.

They estimate the total cost of poor mental health to the economy through lost output is more than both of those together, at between £74 billion and £99 billion per year.

They have picked up on the point we previously made about UK Productivity in our previous blog Productivity, what Philip Hammond Missed in his Autumn Statement. They concluded that it is massively in the interest of both employers and Government to prioritise and invest far more in improving mental health, stating “The UK can ill-afford the productivity cost of this poor mental health”.

They went on to talk about their analysis of the case studies where investments have been made in improving mental health showing a consistently positive return on investment, which on average had a 400% payback.

What were the key recommendations?

The report recommends that all employers, regardless of workplace type, industry or size, adopt the mental health core standards. This will ensure ‘breadth’ of change across the UK workforce and lay the foundations for going further, and can be delivered proportionally depending on the size and type of business.

They believe all employers can and should:

  1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan,
  2. Develop mental health awareness among employees,
  3. Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling,
  4. Provide employees with good working conditions,
  5. Promote effective people management, and
  6. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.

They also recommend that all public-sector employers and larger private companies (500+ employees), deliver the following mental health enhanced standards:

  1. Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting,
  2. Demonstrate accountability,
  3. Improve the disclosure process, and
  4. Ensure provision of tailored in-house mental health support and signposting to clinical help.

What’s Yellow Brick Road’s view?

Well of course, we wholeheartedly welcome the findings. It’s a well-produced report, well thought out and full of really useful insights and strong positive recommendations. We are concerned about three things:

1. What will happen to it now? Will the government take the recommendations and move them forwards, or will many get watered down and changed? It does for instance have some very big asks of the public sector, which in our experience is suffering more from poor wellbeing and mental health in its teams than most private sector companies.

The continued austerity measures will only conflict this further. Will the treasury put a decent amount of money in to support it?

2. Whilst the report briefly talks about “whole wellbeing” and does make some specific statement about the link between physical health and mental health, in that often, poor physical health leads to poor mental health and vice versa, it does not have enough recommendations about other aspects of wellbeing at work other than mental health.

Given the strong link between all other aspects of wellbeing and mental health, this is a lost opportunity. Looking after simple things like ensuring your people get good sleep, exercise and nutrition can drastically reduce the risk of poor mental health. We therefore feel much of the recommendations as reactive. They deal with detection of a mental health issue, rather than prevention.

Please don’t misinterpret what we mean here, we are not saying employers can stop mental health issues, and in some cases, they will not, but a well-rounded whole health wellbeing policy will certainly reduce it.

3. Linked to point 2 above, the report recommends training of managers in Mental Health Awareness, again we support this, but we believe and have always believed that wellbeing initiates in the workplace need to start with the most senior people, so not only should they undertake awareness training, they should undertake wellbeing training for themselves, on themselves. This will not only improve their own performance and therefore their interactions with their teams, but help develop the empathy and the desire for change within the organisation so that whole company initiates can thrive.

What does this mean for me and business right now?

Well, right now, it’s just recommendations, but it does suggest that much of its findings either become new statute or that existing state is enhanced or better enforced.

We would recommend that you start to prepare for the changes. We would of course be happy to discuss how we might help you with that. Please do get in touch.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Ian Hacon

Founder and Chief Dorothy @ Yellow Brick Road

On a Mission to Energise 10 Million people.