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UK HR E-briefing: Mental health in the workplace – report says employers must do more for employees

  • United Kingdom
  • Labor law and trade union issues - HR e-briefs


Employers are being urged to do more to look after the mental health of their workforce with the publication today of the outcome of the Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers.

Estimating that poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, the report from Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer includes 40 recommendations directed at employers, government and other organisations. They include the promotion of a set of ‘mental health core standards’ that all employers should adopt and additional enhanced standards for adoption by larger private sector employers (those with more than 500 employees) and all public sector employers.

The core standards suggest all employers can and should:

  1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan that promotes good mental health of all employees and outlines the support available for those who may need it.
  2. Develop mental health awareness among employees by making information, tools and support accessible.
  3. Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling.
  4. Provide good working conditions and ensure employees have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development.
  5. Promote effective people management to ensure all employees have a regular conversation about their health and well-being with their line manager, supervisor or organisational leader and train and support line managers and supervisors in effective management practices.
  6. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing by understanding available data, talking to employees, and understanding risk factors.

The enhanced standards suggest that larger private sector and all public sector employers can and should:

  1. Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting, to include a leadership commitment and outline of the organisation’s approach to mental health.
  2. Demonstrate accountability by nominating a health and wellbeing lead at Board or Senior Leadership level, with clear reporting duties and responsibilities
  3. Improve the disclosure process to encourage openness during recruitment and throughout, ensuring employees are aware of why the information is needed and make sure the right support is in place to facilitate a good employer response following disclosure
  4. Ensure provision of tailored in-house mental health support and signposting to clinical help, including digital support, employer-purchased Occupational Health or Employee Assistance Programmes, or NHS services, amongst other sources of support.

The report recommends that public bodies should encourage their suppliers to implement the mental health core standards. Recognising that some employers feel ill equipped to manage mental health issues, the review recommends that Government should set up a mental health online information portal to promote best practice. It also notes that employers need to recognise that their role goes beyond what happens in the workplace, not least because technology and other factors increasingly blur the line between work and home life, but also because employers can play a significant role in supporting employees through major life events like bereavement, debt, and relationship breakdown, which can cause or exacerbate mental health conditions.

More information about managing and supporting mental health in the workplace can be found in our recent briefing.

The report’s other recommendations include the following:

  • The Government should consider amending legislation and guidance to encourage employers to report on workplace mental health on their website or other channels. Measures that could be tracked and reported include sickness absence; staff survey results; take up of Employee Assistance Programmes or Occupational Health Services; and disclosure rates. A culture of measurement could, in turn, enable the development of voluntary ranking or benchmarking schemes to help drive accountability and further improvement.
  • The Government should also consider legislating to enhance protections for employees with mental health conditions, particularly fluctuating conditions.
  • The Government should examine what more it can do to require employer compliance with existing equalities and employment laws and the Equality and Human Rights Commission should consider taking a more proactive role in monitoring and taking enforcement action against employers that discriminate against individuals on the grounds of mental health.
  • The Health and Safety Executive should revise its guidance to raise employer awareness of their duty to assess and manage work-related mental ill-health.
  • Insurers should explore how they could support and reward employers, in particular SMEs, who adopt preventative policies and provide mental health support to their employees.
  • The Government should align the fragmented occupational health and practical support available currently from Access to Work, the Fit for Work Service and other NHS services to create an integrated in-work support service to better support the needs of those with mental illness, and other physical health conditions and disabilities. In addition, responsibility for completing fit notes should be extended to mental health professionals and Government should consider how to further improve communication between health professionals, employees and employers where appropriate.
  • The Government should develop a new flexible model for Statutory Sick Pay to better support those with a mental health condition to return to work on a phased basis, where willing and able to do so, and receive wages and SSP on a pro-rata basis.

The Government has said it will respond to the recommendations in due course. Although new legislation is unlikely in the short term due to the present political climate, it is a possibility later down the line. In the meantime the Prime Minister has asked NHS England and the Civil Service to accept the recommendations that apply to them.