Not only is there an expectation that all Government departments and public sector employers will produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan, the Government makes clear that it expects private businesses to conform to a new set of mental health ‘core standards’ and lead the way by demonstrating ‘enhanced standards’.

Whilst the Government expects businesses to adopt the new recommended standards voluntarily, officials have made clear that if organisations do not ensure they are compliant, legislative changes may be brought through the Companies Act. Following the publication of their response to the review, the Government expects businesses to, as a minimum:

  • Produce and implement a mental health plan
  • Develop mental health awareness amongst employees
  • Encourage open conversations about mental health in the work place and the support available to workers
  • Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance
  • Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing

Large businesses are expected to go further by adopting and implementing ‘enhanced standards’ of mental health provision, both preventative and reactive, in their respective workplaces. These enhanced standards constitute increasing transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting; improving the disclosure process and ensuring the provision of tailored in-house mental health support and signposting to clinical help.

But what are the advantages for businesses of meeting the government’s expectations?

Not only is there a clear human case for organisations to enact these enhanced standards in the workplace, there is also a clear cut business case. The annual cost to businesses from poor employee mental health is conservatively estimated to be between £33bn and £42bn per year. The wider cost to the UK economy is up to £99bn, representing as much as 2% of GDP.  Presenteeism – whereby a worker is present but is not productive due to poor mental health – represents half of the annual cost to businesses with the remaining 50% derived from absence and the cost of recruiting new staff. Put simply, adopting and implementing the recommendations of the Farmer-Stevenson Review will benefit businesses’ bottom line.

There are a number of practical steps that organisations can take to ensure best practice in mental health provision spanning three broad areas: culture; prevention and intervention. Poor mental health in the workplace stems, initially, from the culture of the business. When working and operating in a highly pressurised environment, as is the nature of many businesses by definition, employees should feel they are able to talk about mental health and, similarly, line managers must feel comfortable with listening to employees talking about the quality of their mental health. Simple things, such as the introduction of an anonymous monthly stress tracker, as award winning organisations have done previously, can go a long way in fundamentally changing the culture of a business to normalise the idea of workers speaking about, and assessing, the quality of their mental health.

Businesses which have been recognised for demonstrating best practice in this area have all spoken about the need to ensure preventative measures are in place and that senior staff members are equipped with the confidence and knowledge of how to intervene to help and aid a fellow employee suffering from a mental health episode. Practically, this can be achieved, for example, through in-house courses for line managers and webinars training senior staff how to spot signs of deteriorating mental health.

Following the Government’s endorsement of the recommendations in the Farmer-Stevenson review, political pressure will now be applied to the business community to act swiftly. Going beyond compliance with the expected ‘core standards’ to strategically demonstrating leadership by enacting ‘enhanced standards’ not only allows businesses to strengthen their brand appeal and relationship with Government, a key focus of which is productivity, it also demonstrates to investors they take their responsibilities to their employees seriously.