The Thriving at work report released today revealed that up to 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems lose their jobs each year, which is costing the UK economy nearly £99bn each year.

At the beginning of the year, the Prime Minister requested Paul Farmer and Dennis Stevenson to undertake an independent review into how employers can better support workers, including those with mental health issues and poor well-being in order to keep them thriving in the workplace.

The findings of this review show that there is still a prevalent stigma that surrounds mental health which prevents open and honest discussion on the subject. This comes at a steep cost for the UK workforce and economy.

Commenting on the Stevenson/Farmer Review of mental health and employers, Rachel Suff, Senior Employment Relations Adviser at the CIPD, said: “This welcome review shows that the UK is facing a greater challenge than expected when it comes to mental health in the workplace. With one in six people at work affected by mental ill health, a commitment from the Government to address the issues head-on and adopt the recommendations will be a clear signal to employers to do the same.”

“Mental health can still be hard for us to talk about, and we need to focus on improving the situation at a societal and workplace level. This report highlights the vital role that employers should play in tackling the persistent stigma and promoting inclusive workplaces.

“Creating a healthy workplace is good for people and good for business - employers need to understand the countless benefits of what a healthy and happy workforce can deliver in terms of productivity, retention, and engagement. The success of this report will ultimately rest on the willingness of Government, employers and key stakeholders to work together in partnership to deliver long-term and sustainable change.”

The report found that as a result of mental health issues, the annual cost to employers was between £33 billion and £42 billion. Over half the cost was a result of presenteeism – as individuals are less likely to be productive due to poor mental health, and additional costs from sickness absence and staff turnover. While some may argue that this is an inevitable cost of living in this society and doing business, the report and other experts highly dispute that.

Legal & General’s Group CEO, Nigel Wilson adds:

“This Report is a call to arms for all employers – we strongly urge the government to accept Paul and Dennis’ recommendations.”

“As a provider of insurance to other employers, and a big employer ourselves, we have been engaged with mental health issues for a long time, alongside great organisations like the City Mental Health Alliance and on our own behalf through our ‘Not a Red Card’ campaign. We now need to step up our ‘doing’ as well as our ‘thinking’, with continued de-stigmatisation, more transparency, better digital tools, encouraging ‘active listening’ by managers and more training for employees. Legal & General will now aspire to ‘enhanced’ status as described in the report and hope others will do the same.”

There is evidence that companies who make investments into improving mental health, consistently show positive return on investment as it leads to a significant reduction in work related sickness and absence.

The report suggests that a shift in mindset is needed to destigmatise mental health. The correct way to view mental health is that we all have it and fluctuate between thriving, struggling and being ill and possible off work.

In order to achieve this change in mentality, the report lays out a framework of “mental health core standards” which are described as:

  • Producing, implementing and communicating a mental health at work plan;
  • Developing mental health awareness among employees;
  • Encouraging open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling;
  • Providing employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development;
  • Promoting effective people management through line managers and supervisors;
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.

James Malia, Director of Employee Benefits at Sodexo Engage, comments:

“Today’s ‘Thriving at Work’ report makes some reasonable recommendations for employers on how to support their staff, but the truth is that more needs to be done and we should stop relying on just the government. Whilst we have come a long way in eliminating the taboo of mental health, talk must turn in to action. ‘Promoting effective people management’ is simply not enough. Businesses need to invest in intensive training which give these managers the tools and understanding of how to recognise both good and poor mental health. Most of all, if it’s possible to have one or more mental health ambassadors in the workplace who have been through their own challenges, it will immediately encourage more employees to speak out.”


The consensus of the report is that there are three factors which are necessary in order to help the implementation of the “mental health core standards”, which are:

  1. Increasing employer transparency presents the biggest opportunity to encourage a greater breadth and depth of employer action on mental health, and strong leadership is vital to ensuring this change is felt throughout organisations. Employer action on mental health is intrinsically measurable. Increased transparency will go a long way to generating a culture of measurement and will enable the development of voluntary ranking schemes to help drive accountability and further improvement.
  2. While we believe that it is clearly in the interests of all businesses and organisations to implement these mental health core and enhanced standards, we are calling on trade unions, industry groups, professional and regulatory bodies to help with the implementation of these standards.
  3. Digital tools and products are an enabler of change and there is a significant opportunity for low cost, scalable interventions in workplaces. We are witnessing an explosion of such technology and it is vital that there is a firm evidence base that is accessible for employers and employees.

While most of the responses have been quite positive to the report, there are industry heads who feel that the report is ’missing the boat’. 

Jamie True, Global CEO of LifeWorks comments:

“We’ve heard it all before. We’ve been talking about the same statistics and problems for years. Yes, there’s more awareness around mental health issues, but employee participation is low; the average usage of a traditional employee assistance programme (EAP) is just 2-3%. The critical element missing is technology – an employee-centric mobile platform that supports mental, physical and financial wellness proactively. This is Total Well-being.

“Technology plays a transformational role in employee well-being, but it’s not happening. We see an 87% take-up rate for employees using LifeWorks, so we know it works. Forward-thinking companies are embracing it, but many continue to use traditional ‘duty of care’ solutions in a tick box exercise reactively. What’s more, awareness amongst staff is low, they’re hard to access, and there’s stigma attached to using them – you see, mental health is still a taboo subject in many workplaces. But, most importantly, they’re not meeting employees, especially millennials, where they are.”

There is are also calls for companies to take heed of this report and adjust their mental wellbeing strategy as Tim Davie, CEO of BBC Worldwide believes the time for action is now. “The evidence is utterly overwhelming. Those employees who feel that they are cared for by a company, that they’re actively looking after their well-being deliver better results. This is no longer a debating topic.”

Jamie concludes, “Employers who care about well-being, choose the right platform, and focus on solving problems, they won’t miss the boat.”