Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind and co-author of ‘Thriving at Work’ gives an update on a new Leadership Council which is the latest step in improving workplace wellbeing across the UK.
Last Week marked the inaugural meeting of the Thriving at Work Leadership Council, bringing together senior leaders from a range of organisations committed to embedding the key principles underlying good mental health at work. It seemed like an opportune moment to take a look back on what has been achieved since the Thriving at Work review was published in October 2017.
The aim of the review – commissioned by the prime minister and led by Lord Dennis Stevenson and I – was to look at the extent of poor mental health at work and the effect this was having on our workforce and economy.
The review’s findings were more stark than we imagined, with 300,000 people who experience long term health problems losing their job every year and 15 per cent of people in work having symptoms of an existing mental health problem. Additional research by Deloitte found that poor mental health at work costs the UK economy between £74 billion and £99 billion a year, which includes a cost to employers of between £33 billion and £42 billion.
In light of these findings, the review set out a total of 40 recommendations for employers, the UK Government and other stakeholders. Included within the recommendations were six ‘core mental health standards’ that included things like implementing a mental health at work plan, developing mental health awareness, encouraging conversations about mental health, improved working conditions and monitoring employee mental health and wellbeing. Further recommendations – ‘enhanced standards’ – were made for larger organisations. All the recommendations were accepted by the UK Government in their Work, Health and Disability paper, ‘Improving Lives’.
The scale of this challenge cannot to be underestimated but, on the whole, things are moving in the right direction. The UK civil service has developed a new Mental Health Support Sense Check to help its departments in England and Wales assess how well they are meeting the core and enhanced standards, building up a more complete picture of areas of strength and areas for improvement. In addition, they have set a target for 90 per cent of senior civil service leaders to be trained as Wellbeing Confident Leaders by the end of 2019. Meanwhile, NHS England, with support from Mind, has developed its Health and Wellbeing framework, into which the core and enhanced standards are embedded.
Prioritising mental health at work for those working within the NHS is more important than ever. Both the new Long Term Plan in England and the Welsh Government’s A Healthier Wales recognise the need for the NHS workforce to be both physically and mentally healthy. While these ambitions are welcome, they cannot become reality without investing in the workforce – recruiting, retaining and valuing the caring, dedicated staff with the necessary skills and expertise we need to do the incredibly challenging jobs we often take for granted. Key to this is ensuring their mental health and wellbeing are promoted and supported by implementing the standards outlined in the review.
In Wales we have also seen the new Economic Strategy placing mental health at its heart, ensuring that the focus is not only on creating more jobs but also on ensuring that employers are making positive changes to improve and support the mental health of their workforce. We have been working with Welsh Government and other partners, using Thriving at Work as a template, to make this commitment a reality for people in Wales. We are pleased that Welsh Government has agreed to sit on the Leadership Council in order to ensure we learn from what is happening in both England and Wales.
It takes time for changes like these to happen. Employers have made great strides in the past year or so indicating a commitment to creating mentally healthy workplace cultures. Increasingly, employers are recognising the value – both economic and social – of taking staff wellbeing seriously. While more employers are on board when it comes to promoting mental health at work, there is still a huge disability employment gap. We want to reach a point where all workplaces recognise the value of recruiting and nurturing a diverse workforce of talented employees, including those whose mental health may have prevented them working previously. With the right support, work can be a place within which all of us can thrive.
Advice for employers on how to implement the Thriving at Work recommendations is available through the Mental Health at Work Gateway.
The Leadership Council is made up of representatives from the following organisations of varying sizes and sectors:
- Civil service
- Confederation of British Industry
- CYBG/Virgin Money
- Eversheds Sutherland
- Federation of Small Businesses
- Historic England
- Institute of Directors
- Mace Group
- Matrix Chambers
- National Grid
- NHS Improvement
- Pets at Home
- Roots HR
- The Royal Foundation
- Society of Occupational Medicine
- UK Government
- Welsh Government
- Work and Health Unit