Thriving at Work – the Stevenson/Farmer review

Thriving at Work – the Stevenson/Farmer review

October saw the publication of a wide-ranging independent review of mental health at work, which found that hundreds of thousands of people with mental health conditions lose their jobs each year and recommended new standards to decrease this number.

Two people discussing mental health

The Government accepted all of the report’s 40 recommendations when it responded in December – including that the HSE revise its stress guidance to address mental health issues caused by issues beyond the workplace.

The report, called Thriving at Work, found that 300,000 (or 6%) of people with a long-term mental health condition leave their jobs each year ­­– twice the rate as those without a mental health condition (3%).

The authors – Paul Farmer, the chief executive of mental health charity Mind, and Lord Dennis Stevenson, a mental health campaigner and former chairman of HBOS – have drawn up a framework for employers to improve the mental health of their staff, and to help those with mental health conditions stay in their jobs.

Core standards

Thriving at Work, published on 26 October, calls on all employers – regardless of the type of workplace, industry or size – to introduce its six new “core standards”, which lay basic foundations for improving mental health at work. The core standards are:

  • produce and implement a mental health at work plan;
  • develop mental health awareness among employees;
  • encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available;
  • provide good working conditions;
  • promote effective people management; and
  • routinely monitor mental health and wellbeing.

The report says that the Civil Service, public sector employers and businesses in the private sector employing more than 500 people should also implement four “enhanced standards”. These are:

  • increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting;
  • nominate a health and wellbeing lead at board or senior leadership level;
  • improve the process for disclosing mental ill health during recruitment and throughout employment; and
  • provide tailored in-house mental health support and signpost to clinical help.

The Prime Minister, who commissioned the report in January 2017, accepted these recommendations for the Civil Service, and departments have been asked to benchmark current arrangements against the standards. The Government is also encouraging the wider public sector and large employers to take up both the core and enhanced standards.

Prospect’s Deputy General Secretary Garry Graham welcomed the review’s recommendations, but said that the core and enhanced standards should be implemented alongside measures to tackle stress.

Further recommendations

Elsewhere, the report recommends that the HSE revise its Stress Management Standards and guidance to take a more “holistic” view of mental health – whether brought to work or caused by work – and demonstrate how they will help employers deliver key parts of the mental health core standards. It also recommended that the HSE highlight employers’ obligations to assess mental health risks.

The HSE Stress Management Standards look at the six key areas of work that, if properly managed, can help to reduce work-related stress.

The Government’s response to the review said that the HSE has accepted these recommendations. However, it failed to address the report’s call for the HSE to increase its focus on mental health during inspections.

It comes only months after the HSE relaunched its Stress Management Standards at an event in central London. At the Stress Summit in March, the HSE said that it was working with the public sector – prisons, education and NHS organisations, where rates of stress are highest – to devise tailored procedures and interventions to help implement the standards. From this, the HSE planned to produce new guidance on implementing the Stress Management Standards in these sectors, along with refreshed guidance for broader application. It is unknown how the Thriving at Work recommendations will affect this work.

The authors of Thriving at Work also want to see responsibility for completing fit notes (formerly known as sick notes) extended to include mental health professionals, not just GPs; and called on the Government to overhaul the various fragmented occupational health and support services, creating an integrated in-work service for people with mental and physical health conditions and disabilities.

Read the report: Thriving at Work: a review of mental health and employers