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Employers and employees alike in the UK are becoming aware of the need to talk about mental health at work. The UK Government last year commissioned a review on the subject as part of an effort to transform the way mental health is dealt with at work, in schools and in the community.

The gradual breaking down of taboos about mental health and a move away from the fabled British “stiff upper lip” mentality are to be welcomed, not only because of the benefits to individuals affected but also to society and the economy as a whole.

Employers have a duty of care to their employees; there are benefits of properly managing mental health for the wider workplace, and there are financial benefits too.

The toll of poor mental health

Poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion each year, according to a recent report by Deloitte. That estimate includes costs associated both with absences and with presenteeism – employees showing up to work while unwell.

Presenteeism, Deloitte estimates, can actually cost employers up to three times more than mental health-related absence.

As with physical health conditions, mental health can vary by individual and change  over time, and can affect a person’s ability to thrive and work effectively, the Deloitte report noted.

In 2017, UK Prime Minister Theresa May commissioned a review on mental health at work. The review was carried out by cross-bench peer Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer, CEO of mental health charity Mind and chair of the National Health Service’s Mental Health Taskforce.

The report, Thriving at Work, found that some 300,000 people with a long-term mental health condition in the UK fall out of work every year. It sets out a series of mental health core standards, a framework of actions which, the authors say, all organisations should be able to achieve.

Those actions include:

  • Producing, implementing and communicating a mental health at work plan;
  • Developing mental health awareness among employees;
  • Encouraging open conversations about mental health and the support available when people are struggling;
  • Providing employees with good working conditions and ensuring they have a healthy work-life balance and opportunities for development;
  • Providing effective people management through line managers and supervisors; and
  • Routinely monitoring employee mental health and well-being.

The report, which drew heavily upon Deloitte’s findings, recommended that employers should risk-assess and manage work-related mental health the same way that they would work-related physical ill-health.

And Deloitte’s report argues that employers should invest more in mental health interventions to support individuals with mental health conditions. Interventions can produce good returns on investment, according to Deloitte, which said an overview of research on the topic suggested that the return-on-investment for workplace mental health interventions averages 4.2:1.

Having a set of procedures in place to manage mental health, making it possible for employees to feel comfortable talking about mental health, and intervening and enabling rehabilitation are all ways that employers can help to reduce the human and economic costs associated with mental ill-health.

How insurance can help

Insurers have a part to play too.

The role of the insurer in getting ill or injured employees back to work can go beyond writing a cheque in the event of a claim, for example working with independent clinical specialists on both pre- and post-claim solutions to improve outcomes for all and ultimately improve the claims experience. 

Insurance plans can give employers access to expertise in rehabilitation, which ultimately benefits both employees and employers.

Workplace rehabilitation is aimed at finding ways to enable employees to retain their valuable work skills and return to the jobs they had before their illness or injury – or to a suitable job that uses their expertise.

As well as ensuring that valuable skills and personnel are not lost, rehabilitation can help to keep claims costs down by enabling a speedy and safe return to work.

Rehabilitation providers can provide employees with access to online and digital services that enable them to access therapy without the perceived stigma attached to attending a clinic or speaking to someone in person, if they wish.

Next steps

The Stevenson/Farmer report praised the efforts of the many UK employers that are already making great strides to manage and address mental health issues in the workplace.

Both recommended that all employers can – and should – do more to put into place a series of “enhanced” standards.

Those standards require employers to:

  • Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting;
  • Demonstrate accountability;
  • Improve the disclosure process;
  • Ensure the provision of tailored, in-house mental health support and signposting to clinical help.

Many of us will at some point in our lives be affected by mental health issues. And employers of all types, across all industries, have both a duty of care to their staff and a financial and productivity-driven incentive to prevent and manage mental health issues where possible.

The Stevenson/Farmer report outlines ways in which the UK can become a world leader in the relation to mental health at work. That will take a concerted effort, but with the help of insurers focused on prevention and rehabilitation, it could, we hope, one day become a reality.

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