Summit reports on mental health in the workplace

Summit reports on mental health in the workplace

By Liz Lockhart

Earlier this year a summit, hosted by AXA and Mind, brought together senior figures from sixteen leading organisations to consider the challenges faced by employers when addressing mental distress in the workplace.

Some of Britain’s largest employers have joined forces with Mind to outline solutions for managing mental health at work in a new report which has been published this week.  Barclays, Marks & Spencer and Deloitte are just three of the big names in employment who are collaborating in this much needed move.

Attendees at the summit expressed ‘grave concerns’ over a proposal to tax employee assistance programmes (EAPs) as an employee benefit in kind.  They say that the Government must help employers to support staff.  Currently EAPs are exempt from taxation and rather than construct barriers to investment in employee wellbeing, the Government should consider offering incentives, the summit suggested.

This could include lower insurance premiums for employers who give managers mental health training and tax relief on benefits that promote mental wellbeing.

Other recommendations in the report include educating local GPs about the workplace environment, encouraging the disclosure of mental ill-health and discussing workplace adjustments with staff before they visit their GP.

The report also emphasises that a focus on the impact of employee mental health must be maintained during challenging times in the wake of the recession.  Support from occupational health and EAPs should be put in place where possible.

Mind wants to see all employers to include details of management of mental health in the workplace in public reports.  Research from Business in the Community shows that all FTSE 100 companies include some kind of health and wellbeing topic in their public reporting.  Unfortunately, only 15% report on the management of employees’ psychological health.

‘Just about every business manages to incorporate physical health and safety into their working practices, yet despite the fact that mental health is the second biggest health problem in the workforce, only a handful of organisations specifically promote and protect good mental health,’ said Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind.

‘Bringing together some of the best known businesses to discuss what is holding us back revealed that some of the barriers are really simple to overcome – problems such as poor awareness and poor training on stress management and mental health, which can be resolved with very little investment indeed.

‘Crucially, there needs to be the will from right at the top of an organisation to start giving mental wellbeing the priority it deserves. Signalling from the top that mental health is valued, promoting openness and ensuring line managers are trained in soft skills can help employers to act early and nip problems in the bud - saving money and creating a happier, more productive workforce,’ Mr. Farmer added.

The report Taking Care of business: Employer solutions for better mental health at work (2011) can be downloaded here.   

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