Mental health at work

An independent review on how employers can better support the mental health of employees, including those with mental health problems or poor well-being, has been published recently.

The Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers, titled Thriving At Work , underlines the cost of poor mental health at work and the knock on impacts for society, the economy and Government.

The report states that employers lose billions of pounds each year due to less productive, less effective staff and those who are off sick. 300,000 people with a long term mental health condition leave employment every year, equivalent of the whole population of Newcastle.

Mental health core standards

The research did, however, find green shoots of good practice. It sets out a number of mental health core standards that can be adopted across all workplaces at little or no cost. It describes these as a “framework for a set of actions which we believe all organisations in the country are capable of implementing quickly”.

The mental health core standards are:

  • 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 employee mental health and wellbeing.

Impact of mental health issues on the business

For employers, there are a number of ways in which poor mental health can display itself. These are:

Sickness absence

Mental health is one of the greatest causes of sickness absence in the UK. While the overall rate of sickness absence has fallen by 15%-20% since 2009, absence due to mental health reasons in this period has actually risen by around 5%. People with a mental health condition are also three times more likely to have a long term period of sickness.


Defined as showing up to work when ill, presenteeism results in a loss of productivity and can make an individual’s condition worse. Various studies suggest that presenteeism is increasing year on year.

Limiting progression

Employees tend to perceive that having a mental health condition could hamper their progression: 35% of people think they would be less likely to get promoted if they had depression, which can result in a loss of diversity and skills.

Impact on wider workforce

People who are not supported with their mental health by their employers can cause a knock on effect on other members of staff if problems are left un-managed. For example, if someone isn’t supported with the right adjustments to stay in work, they may need to take time off and other staff have increased workload.

Impact on employee turnover

An employee may leave their employer if they feel unable to continue due to poor mental health or the impact of work on mental wellbeing. This brings the obvious costs of finding and training new staff.

Recommendations for employers

The report suggests that employers 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.

Read the Stevenson/Farmer review in full. 

Head of the Frettens Employment Team, Paul Burton, comments “Workforces are diverse. It is important for employers to take on board these mental health standards and try to make them fit their organisational cultures and practices, to meet employees’ needs. Employers may wish to consider a broader offer to employees to attract or retain employees, improve engagement or boost productivity.” 

At Frettens, all of our solicitors offer a free initial meeting or chat on the phone to answer your questions. If this article raises issues for you or your business, please call us on 01202 499255 and Kate or Paul will be happy to discuss it with you.