However, for many years risks were largely regarded as being physical rather than psychological. It is only in recent years that the need to promote good mental health has been recognised, and work-related stress has risen up the agenda.
There is overwhelming evidence linking productivity to staff wellbeing.
Working towards a healthier tomorrow
The work of Dame Carol Black (‘Working for a healthier tomorrow’ 2008) underlined the need for organisations to look after their workforce:
- She recognised that ill health in the workplace impairs economic productivity even if it doesn’t lead to sickness
- Her research found that ‘presenteeism’ (i.e. when an employee has started to become unwell and unproductive at work, but is not off sick) costs an estimated three times more than sickness absence
- She challenged employers to think of illness as a process, rather than an event, and to work with staff to prevent them becoming ill, and rehabilitate them if they did, rather than paying the costs associated with presenteeism and sickness absence. For this reason the ‘fit note’ replaced the Med 3 sick note in April 2010.
Good health – physical and psychological – makes good sense for organisations.
According to the national Labour Force Survey, in 2009/10 an estimated 435,000 people in Great Britain suffered from work-related stress. Of these just over half, 234,000, were new cases. In 2009/10, 9.8 million working days were lost through stress due to work.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) introduced the Management Standards Approach for work-related stress in 2005.
These common sense standards are based on research into what causes distress or undue pressure in the workplace.
They impose a duty on organisations to seek out and assess jobs with an exposure to stress.
The standards define work-related stress under categories relating to demands on the employee, role, control, support, relationships and organisational change.
NICE published guidance on ‘Promoting Mental Wellbeing through productive and healthy working conditions: Guidance for Employers’ in November 2009.
The guidance identified that many organisations lack knowledge about how to manage mental health issues in the workplace and consequently employees face stigma. 200,000 people with mental health issues are joining the incapacity benefit system every year.
The guidelines help organisations promote healthy working conditions which support staff with mental health issues.