Workplace mental health interventions can boost productivity – Farmer/Stevenson review

Investing in supporting mental health at work is good for business and productivity, helping to cut the £99bn it costs the UK economy each year, a review commissioned by the Prime Minister has found.

Paul Farmer and Dennis Stevenson
Paul Farmer and Dennis Stevenson

The The Thriving at Work review, written by Lord Dennis Stevenson and Mind chief executive Paul Farmer, has found poor mental health is costing the UK economy up to £99bn a year, with 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem losing their jobs each year.

The review found that poor mental health costs UK employers between £33bn and £42bn a year, with over half of the cost coming from presenteeism – where individuals are less productive due to poor mental health in work. These costs come from additional costs from sickness absence and staff turnover, says the report, which calculates the cost of poor mental health to Government, including costs in providing benefits, falls in tax revenue and costs to the NHS, as being between £24bn and £27bn, .

Evaluations of workplace interventions carried out for the review by Deloitte show a return to business of between £1.50 and £9 for every £1 invested.

The review calls on employers to commit to six core standards around mental health, with further recommendations for large employers and the public sector, improved regulation, and changes to legislation.

The reviewers are calling on all employers, regardless of size or industry, to adopt six ‘mental health core standards’ that lay the basic foundations for an approach to workplace mental health. These cover mental health at work plans, mental health awareness for employees, line management responsibilities and routine monitoring of staff mental health and wellbeing. Large employers and the public sector are expected to go even further, demonstrating best practice through external reporting and designated leadership responsibility.

Other recommendations include the creation of an online health and wellbeing portal to help employers access the tools and guidance they need, additional support for small and medium enterprises, the use of digital technology as a means to support those working remotely or in the gig economy, changes to legislation to offer better protection for staff with mental health problem and measures to ensure that workplace mental health is promoted and enhanced through greater transparency and the role of regulators.

Mind chief executive Paul Farmer says: “We found that in many workplaces, mental health is still a taboo subject and that opportunities are missed to prevent poor mental health and ensure employees who may be struggling get the support they need. In many instances employers simply don’t understand the crucial role they can play, or know where to go for advice and support.

“The human cost of failing to address mental health in the workplace is clear. Workplace mental health should be a priority for organisations across the UK. Every employer in the UK has a responsibility to support employees with mental health problems and promote the mental wellbeing of their entire workforce.”

Lord Dennis Stevenson says: “In light of the demonstrable impact of poor workplace wellbeing on individuals, employers and the UK economy, we are calling on the Government to accept the recommendations in full, and to introduce the core standards in the public sector. We need the right leadership among employers in the public, private and voluntary sectors, and a mandate from policy-makers to deliver our ambitious but achievable plan. It’s time for every employer to recognise their responsibilities and affect change, so that the UK becomes a world leader in workplace wellbeing for all staff and in supporting people with mental health problems to thrive at work.”

Deloitte UK chief executive and senior partner David Sproul says: “Our analysis indicates the potential impact poor mental health has on UK businesses and the wider economy. It should spur employers into recognising that championing mental health and supporting employees makes good business sense and that inaction comes at a demonstrable cost.”

Grid spokesperson Katharine Moxham says: “There are specific recommendations in the review aimed at insurers and industry groups and we will be considering with our members how to take these forward. The group risk industry can and does help employers to support the mental health of their workforce and we have long recognised the positive impact of early interventions. We would encourage effective utilisation of the varied support services made available to employers alongside group risk core products – employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness, many of which are aimed at supporting mental health and helping people with mental health conditions stay in or get back to work.

“We would also call on Government not to look at the Stevenson Farmer review in isolation and to keep up the momentum from the DWP/DH Joint Policy Unit’s Work, Health and Disability: Improving Lives Green Paper, which recognised the role that group income protection can play in improving outcomes for employees unable to work through illness or injury and reducing the employment disability gap.”

Canada Life Group Insurance marketing director Paul Avis says: “Clearly the business case for investing in improving mental health in the workplace is now established. The wider issue of the UK’s productivity, while not directly referenced in the report, is now out in the open. Our own research shows 18 per cent of people say they’ve gone into work when feeling mentally unwell – equivalent to 5.8m British workers. The message for advisers is that a lot of the tools that can help address mental health problems in the workplace, be they personal, work-related or financial, are in many cases already available for free through group risk products. So advisers need to make sure employers know what they have got and get them to use it.”

ABI assistant director, head of health and protection Raluca Borolanu-Omura says: “Insurers have a  proven track record in helping employers to improve the mental health of their workforce through preventative support and early intervention services. The industry wants to do more, and we’re keen to see more employees have access to this kind of provision.

“As the report points out, employer action on mental ill health is intrinsically measureable. We want to see employers provide their staff with an annual protection statement outlining their current entitlements to sick pay and state benefits to help them better understand their financial resilience if absent due to mental ill health. Furthermore, tax incentives to encourage greater take up would help extend the safety net for the most vulnerable.”