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Should Mental Health be a Boardroom Issue?

A review of how mental health is dealt with in the workplace was commissioned by the Prime Minister in January and the consequent report by Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer has now been published. The findings make difficult reading for employers. According to the review, 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems are losing their jobs every year. An analysis by Deloitte, which accompanied the report, estimates that the annual cost of poor mental health to employers is between £33 billion and £42 billion.

These are worrying statistics that will inevitably lead many organisations to question whether employee wellbeing should now be elevated from the HR department to the boardroom. The estimated economic impact alone flags up clear implications for business strategy and growth but there is much more to this than money.

Let’s take a closer look at the six ‘core standards’ that the Thriving at Work report calls on employers to adopt in light of the findings. These are to:

  • Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan;
  • Develop mental health awareness among employees;
  • Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling;
  • Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development;
  • Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors;
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.

Creating a culture that embraces these core standards is now a priority for senior leaders in the boardroom. More importantly, these measures are designed to raise awareness of the fact that mental health is indiscriminate. It can affect any one of us and if an employee feels unsupported at work this may be because they are being discriminated against in some way because of their mental health.

As a specialist advisor to boards on employment issues I will be urging my clients to consider mental health as part of their discrimination policy as well as their wellbeing agenda. Undoubtedly there will be board members who have themselves experienced the impact of mental health problems, either personally or professionally. By sharing their experiences, these leaders have a unique opportunity to make a significant impact on company culture and the way mental health is managed at every level of the business.