Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer’s report laid bare the challenge facing employers and government on both a human and an economic level. 300,000 people with long-term mental health issues fall out of work every year, whilst the annual cost to business of neglecting mental health support is estimated, conservatively, to be between £33bn-£42bn per year. The wider cost to the UK economy is up to £99bn, representing as much as 2% of GDP. Despite the flagship report being published in 2017, only last month new research published by Mind found that half of those suffering from stress, anxiety, low-mood or depression did not speak to their line manager about it. A separate report, from the Birmingham Hospital Saturday Fund, found that 25% of UK employees do not feel they ‘would be taken seriously’ if they did open up to their employer. Two thirds of those polled felt their colleagues had ‘negative perceptions’ of mental health issues.The UK government’s commitment to tackling this head on is evident. Last month, Sarah Newton, Minister for Disabilities, delivered a keynote address to the CBI demanding that chief executives make a ‘real, tangible commitment’ to improving workplace culture surrounding mental health. The public sector, she said, is leading by example and it is now time for the private sector to follow suit. Newton, whilst acknowledging that the scale of the challenge is daunting, told business leaders they are ‘pivotal in shaping culture’ and ‘exemplary behaviour must start from the top’. The pressure from government may be unrelenting, but what exactly is expected of the business community?
Government expects businesses to adhere to a set of standards recommended in the Thriving at Work report. Whilst voluntary, not signing up to these naturally risks negative reputational impact. The report calls on government to legislate through the Companies Act should the business community not act swiftly. Whilst the government has since stated the Companies Act would not be the appropriate vehicle through which to legislate, it has not ruled out doing so altogether. Ministers are serious about making significant progress on mental health provision and the business community should get ahead of the curve before they are forced to act.
All businesses, as a minimum, are now expected to:
- Produce and implement a mental health at work plan
- Develop mental health awareness amongst employees
- Encourage open conversations about mental health in the workplace
- Promote effective people management through line managers
- Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing
Best practice through transparency
Large businesses, however, are expected to go further and demonstrate best practice by 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. Twelve months on from the review, government will expect all large companies to, at the very least, have set in motion a process to ensure they are complying with Stevenson-Farmer’s enhanced standards. Coinciding with a surge in mandatory non-financial reporting in the UK in the last number of years, businesses will now be expected to include mental health provision in their annual report outlining what they are doing in this area and how it fits into the organisation’s overall strategy. To demonstrate to government that an organisation is truly going above and beyond on mental health, businesses should:
- Include details of mental health provision in company recruitment and career information
- Make use of relevant indices to evaluate and report on performance
- Assess annual reports against FTSE 100 annual reports to benchmark against others
- Identify ways to tackle and measure presenteeism at organisational and local levels
The government’s ambition on mental health, as well as the opposition’s, is far-reaching and Ministers expect all work places, large and small, to put in place measures, both preventative and reactive, to safeguard against poor mental health and to provide support to those who need it. Naturally, this presents challenges for small and medium enterprises which may want to do the right thing but will not necessarily have the resources to implement Stevenson-Farmer’s core standards. Whilst organisations such as Mind, Acas and the Federation of Small Businesses are increasingly directing SMEs towards online advice hubs, the government makes clear that it cannot, and must not, solely be the role of charities and representative bodies to aid SMEs in the mental health journey. The Thriving at Work report makes clear that it is incumbent on large businesses to reach into their supply chains and use their ‘influence to encourage and support smaller employees implement the standards, as well as sharing resources and knowledge’. In doing so, large businesses will not only demonstrate to government and investors their commitment to their employees’ wellbeing, but, through their reach, they genuinely have the potential to have a transformative effect on the mental health landscape the length and breadth of the UK.
The month of October will see increased scrutiny of businesses’ mental health initiatives, transparency and performance measures. Mental health stigma is systemic and widespread and it exists in every single workplace in Britain today. The government has made clear that its mission is to change this and business is expected to lead the charge. In 2018, there is not only a clear economic case for implementing the recommendations of the Stevenson-Farmer review, but, put simply, it is the right thing to do.