Elenor Styles from the Mental Health and Employers Independent Review Team on the The Stevenson / Farmer Review: Thriving at Work

In January, the Prime Minister asked Lord Dennis Stevenson, mental health campaigner, and Paul Farmer, CEO of the mental health charity Mind, to carry out an Independent Review into how employers can better support all employees, including those with poor mental health and wellbeing, remain and thrive in work.

Drawing on the accounts of over 200 employers, a range of cross-sector organisations and individuals with lived experience, we not only identified that there is a huge cost of poor mental health, both human and financial, but also a significant opportunity for the UK to become a world leader in creating workplaces which enable all employees to thrive. The reviewers call on employers and influencers across sectors, to increase the focus on and implementation of workplace interventions for mental health. Part of this will be grasping the opportunity to work together to build a comprehensive and robust evidence base for what interventions work and in what contexts.

Our recommendations

The Review developed a common sense package of mental health standards which we believe any employer in the UK can and should implement. These standards build on evidence of existing good-practice from academic literature, case studies, guidance and toolkits. These include implementation of a mental health at work plan outlining support available for those who need it; development of mental health awareness; encouragement of open conversations about mental health and support available; promotion of appropriate workplace adjustments; and routine monitoring of employee mental health and wellbeing.  

The Reviewers firmly believe that increasing employer transparency and accountability presents the biggest opportunity to influence and encourage employers to engage on this agenda and create lasting cultural change in UK workplaces. There is also a great opportunity for all employers to increase their take up and measurement of interventions and in doing so build a solid evidence base, as to which workplace interventions work

Although the review is primarily about the role of employers, it also makes a number of recommendations to Government, including implementing the core standards within the public sector, with a targeted approach for those workforces particularly exposed to high levels of trauma. Additionally, that the NHS build on work to provide access to quality care for people in work; that government make improvements to fragmented services and interventions for those with mental health problems and that they consider developing legislation to enhance protections for those with fluctuating mental health conditions. Other recommendations are aimed at work place regulators, local authorities, the self-employed and those working via digital platforms. For further details of all 40 recommendations see the final report.

Human and economic cost  

The human cost of poor mental health is enormous and impacts significantly the lives of the individuals concerned and those who care for them. There is also the ultimate cost, in loss of life through suicide. Our research and analysis found that 300,000 people with long term mental health problems lose their jobs each year, significantly higher than the rates for physical health conditions. There is, additionally, a huge economic cost. An Independent Study the Reviewers commissioned from Deloitte found that poor mental health costs employers between £33 and £42 billion a year. These costs are made up of absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover.

Building on the green shoots – the case for optimism

Despite the substantive human and financial costs our research also showed grounds for optimism. Where investments have been made in improving mental health in the workplace, a consistently positive return on investment can be demonstrated. We have established a clear business case to encourage employers to prioritise workplace mental health and our mental health standards make this simple for all employers. Throughout the Review we identify numerous examples of employers who are taking positive and innovative steps to support the mental health of their employees.

What works, measurement and cross sector approach

Two things employers consistently told us was that they wanted to take action but didn’t know what to do, or what worked with regards to improving workplace mental health.

Whilst our research and Deloitte’s work surfaced examples of mental health interventions with a positive return on investment, in many cases this evidence was international and it became clear that there is a lack of a comprehensive evidence base in this space. Of course there is growing evidence around what works for wellbeing and we know what looks promising, but in order to drive forward change and achieve our vision, we need to test and trial, based on the mental health standards, and develop a greater understanding of what interventions and initiatives work. This will involve improved evaluation and collaboration across all sectors, with clear reporting on what does and doesn’t work and sharing of best practice. It also requires the development of more consistent measurement tools, where we could think about measures for productivity which are intrinsically linked to employee’s mental health and wellbeing.

We have further recommended that Government streamline research and activity relating to workplace mental health to drive evidence building and innovation. To drive and maintain support, the Reviewers recommended that government invite leaders from variety of cross sector organisations to join a leadership council to maintain momentum, encourage evaluation and measurement of workplace interventions.

The future

We have the opportunity going forward to become world leaders in workplace mental health. This should be a priority for organisations across all sectors in the UK. We need the right leadership amongst employers in the public private and voluntary sectors and a consistent culture of sharing information and measurement and evaluation so that together we can build on the evidence base and support all employees, including those with mental health problems, to thrive at work.

Read more about what works for wellbeing at work

If you want to find out more about the links between wellbeing and unemployment, job quality, learning at work, team working – and more, take a look at the online briefings.