How to mitigate the cost of poor employee mental health

Long-term conditions cost companies more than £33bn a year, but there are ways to help, explains Sam Glass

According to the Thriving at work study conducted by Stevenson and Farmer, more people with a mental health condition are in work than ever before. However, many individuals are still struggling emotionally or leaving unemployment because of their poor mental health. Around 300,000 people with a long-term condition leave employment every year – that’s the same as the population of Belfast. 

Although there are 1.5 million people in the UK with a diagnosed long-term mental health problem in work and the rate of employment has increased, there are still major hurdles that must be overcome. Individuals with long-term conditions are still far less likely to be in work compared to those without.

Research has also shown that people with mental health issues lose their jobs at double the rate of those without a mental health condition, and at a higher rate than those with a physical health condition. There are numerous reasons that poor mental health should be a concern in a company, including absenteeism, presenteeism, limited progression, impacts on the wider workforce and costs. 

The first cost addressed in the Stevenson/Farmer review is that of ‘human cost’, with the ultimate loss being loss of life through suicide. According to the review: “We know that rates of poor mental health and suicide are higher for employees in certain industries, though clearly there are a number of factors. For example, suicide rates among men working in construction and decorating are more than 35 per cent more likely to take their own lives, and female nurses are 24 per cent more likely to commit suicide than the national average for women.”

The cost to employers is also shocking, with poor mental health costing employers between £33bn and £42bn per year. The cost to the government is between £24bn and £27bn per year, while the cost to the UK economy is between £74bn and £99bn per year. 

So, rather than spending this much on poor mental health, why not spend a small percentage of the overall cost on prevention? 

With only four in 10 organisations (39 per cent) having policies or systems in place to support employees with common mental health problems, it is not surprising that eight in 10 employers report no cases of employees disclosing a mental health condition. If there is no support in place, why would anyone come forward? In light of their recent research, Stevenson and Farmer have developed mental health core standards that they believe all employers can and should follow:

  • Create, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan that promotes positive mental health and outlines the support for those who need it.
  • Develop mental health awareness among employees by making information, tools and support accessible. 
  • During the recruitment process and at regular intervals throughout employment, encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling, and offer appropriate workplace adjustments to employees who require them. 
  • Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work-life balance and opportunities for development.
  • Promote effective people management to ensure all employees have a regular conversation about their health and wellbeing with their line manager, supervisor or organisational leader, and train and support line managers and supervisors in effective management practices. 
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing by understanding available data, talking to employees and understanding risk factors.

Sam Glass is a marketing and PR executive at Thrive