Every year, poor mental health costs the UK economy up to £99 billion as productivity of employees falls and 300,000 people with mental health problems face the personal tragedy of losing their jobs.
But a report by the UK government, ‘Thriving at Work: The Independent Review of Mental Health and Employers’, shows that the status quo can and must be challenged
and that addressing the issue and fixing the problem not only cuts costs and improves employees’ wellbeing, but it can also have a positive financial return on investment for companies.
UK employers face annual costs of between £33 and £42 billion; more than 50 percent of those costs coming from ‘presenteeism’, when workers are less productive, and sickness absence and staff turnover. The government picks up a tab of £24-27 billion much of it from welfare and NHS costs. The overall £99 billion includes all of the above costs, together with the opportunity costs of companies and the economy not being at full production and of the NHS not having to dedicate resources to mental health interventions – money that could be saved or spent elsewhere
Equally – there are huge opportunities to cut these costs, improve productivity and improve the lot of the employee at the same time. Studies by Deloitte, cited in the report, show that where investment is made in improving mental health, it gives a consistently positive return with one case showing a £9.98 return on investment of £1.
While the solutions should be tailored for individuals and by company, the value of the report will initially be that the issue of mental health in the workplace cannot now be ignored by employers. In addition, individual employees are also encouraged to be aware of their own and other people’s mental health.
The report’s overall ambitions include that:
- Employees in all types of employment will have ‘good work’ contributing to positive mental health
- All of us will have knowledge and confidence to understand and look after our mental health.
- All organizations, regardless of size, will have the awareness and tools to identify and prevent work factors leading to mental ill-health
- They will be equipped to support individuals with a mental health condition to thrive
- Organizations will have access to timely help to reduce sickness absences caused by mental ill-health
The report highlights a set of actions, which over a decade, are designed to slash by a third the number of people leaving jobs due to mental health problems. These practical interventions – or mental health ‘core standards’ that all companies must do, include:
- 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 employees’ mental health and wellbeing
In addition – and depending on their size and maturity, companies in a leading position on promoting mental health at work will also adopt some or all of the following ‘enhanced standards’:
- Increase transparency an accountability through internal and external reporting [on mental health]
- Demonstrate accountability
- Improve the disclosure process
- Ensure provision of tailored in-house mental support and sign-posting to clinical support
The bottom line results from these interventions could mean 100,000 fewer people leaving their jobs due to mental health problems and employers should be willing to pay £1 to get nearly £10 back.
All this could be great news for people suffering poor mental health, for the NHS and through increased productivity, for the wider economy. Overall, it will be one element that promotes a decent, respectful society.
The key will now be implementation, transparently measuring and reporting progress and ongoing government focus on the topic. Otherwise, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.