The effects of poor mental health impact on the workforce significantly; 300,000 people with a long-term mental health condition leave employment every year, a number greater than those with physical health problems. Because there is an underlying stigma attached to poor mental health, it poses as an obstacle. Many people may choose not to get diagnosed at all, and those who do have a diagnosed mental health condition may not disclose it to their employers in fear of the potential consequences.
The Stevenson/Farmer “Thriving at Work” review of mental health and employers identifies the causes of mental health problems in the workplace (caused not just by work, but any mental health problems which are brought to and experienced at, work), and steps that employers can take in order to better support the mental health of all people currently in employment.
The aims of this review are to equip organisations to support individuals with poor mental health, and to reduce the amount of people with long-term mental health conditions so they can benefit from the positive impacts of good work. “Good work” includes autonomy, fair pay, work life balance, opportunities for advancement, and the absence of bullying and harassment in the workplace. Good work can help prevent new mental health problems and support those with existing conditions to thrive at work.
Several key findings are identified and addressed in this review. Firstly, many employers acknowledge they are missing opportunities to intervene early when employees are struggling, as the stigma of disclosing a mental health condition is still an obstacle to employees seeking support. A significant number of employers are also not transparent about the mental health and well-being of their employees, and not many ensure that there is adequate accountability at a senior leadership level. In addition, it was found that many employers have a general lack of awareness of how to promote good mental health for all, support someone with a mental health condition and where to start looking for external support. Employers want to do the right thing but line managers lack the training, skills or confidence required to effectively support others at a very basic level.
Stevenson and Farmer developed an evidence-based framework they call “mental health core standards’, in which they describe a set of actions that all organisations in the country are capable of implementing. These core standards are as follows:
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 and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development;
5. Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors;
6. Routinely monitor employee mental health and well-being.
The report also outlines a series of more ambitious ‘enhanced’ standards for employers who can and should do more to lead the way, building on the mental health core standards. These are as follows:
1. Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting
2. Demonstrate accountability
3. Improve the disclosure process
4. Ensure provision of tailored in-house mental health support and signposting to clinical help
It is recommended that all employers, regardless of workplace type, industry, or size adopt the mental health core standards in order to ensure change across the UK workforce. The mental health core standards are designed to suit a variety of workplaces and be implemented by even the smallest employers. Employers can also improve internal transparency by discussing the mental health core standards with their employees. It is vital that employees can help steer initiatives to ensure that the mental health core standards are adopted in a way that meets the particular interests and needs in that organisation.
Employers can measure employee mental health and well-being through surveys and mood trackers. Organisations can report on findings internally in order to encourage discussion throughout the organisation and increase accountability of the organisation to employees for delivering against the mental health core or enhanced standards.
Employers should also recognise that their role goes beyond what happens in the workplace, as technology and other factors increasingly blur the line between work and home life. Flexible working can benefit all employees, especially those with caring responsibilities. Employers can also play a more significant role in supporting employees through major life events, which may include bereavement, problem debt, and relationship breakdown, that can cause or exacerbate mental health conditions.
Mental health problems have risen in the last two decades, especially anxiety and depression in younger women and older men. Therefore it is important for employers to take the first step and provide necessary support for mental health their employees might need. The Stevenson/Farmer review acknowledges the current issues facing individuals experiencing mental health problems in the UK workforce and has addressed ways in which we can all help solve the issue, most notably employers, the public sector and Government.
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