Sadly, I deal with many workplace disability discrimination cases and a high proportion of those involve mental health issues. In my experience, employers find it much more difficult to understand and manage mental health issues in the workplace, in contrast to other disabilities.
I therefore welcomed Theresa May’s announcement in January this year that an independent review was to be undertaken into how employers can better support all individuals in employment with mental ill health or poor well being to remain in and thrive through work. Last month, the government’s report was released.
As you may have seen in the headlines, the review uncovered some staggering facts and figures:
- 300,000 people with a long term mental health problem lose their jobs each year.
- 15% of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health problem.
- Poor mental health of employees is costing employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, stemming from sick leave, staff turnover and individuals being less productive in their roles (“presenteeism”).
- The cost of poor mental health to the government is between £24 billion and £27 billion, resulting from costs of providing benefits, falls in tax revenue and costs to the NHS.
- And the cost to the economy as a whole from lost output?…between £74 billion and £99 billion a year!
The “inescapable conclusion” was that it was massively in the interests of both employers and the government to prioritise and invest far more in improving mental health. I wholeheartedly agree with that conclusion.
But what can employers do about it?
The report proposes “mental health core standards”, a framework for a set of actions which could be implemented across all workplaces quickly and at little or no cost. It recommends the following:
- Implement and communicate mental health at work plans;
- develop mental health awareness among employees;
- encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available;
- provide good working conditions and a healthy work-life balance;
- promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors;
- routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.
Personally, I think the recommendations are a very good start.
So many of my cases result from a serious lack of appreciation and understanding of mental health issues and how to balance them against the employer’s need to achieve results, deal with absenteeism and address perceived performance issues. I therefore believe that implementation of the framework would give employers a very different perspective on these types of cases and, if well managed and well informed, I expect many employers will realise just how much those with mental health issues can thrive at work, as much as anyone else.
Daniel Kindell – Solicitor