Urgent need to tackle mental ill-health in workplace, says ReWAGE

The latest policy brief from work and employment think-tank, ReWAGE, argues that there is an urgent need to reduce rising levels of mental ill-health in the workplace and to help organisations retain and integrate employees with mental conditions.

Mental ill-health has severe personal and economic effects. For employers, it is a major source of sickness absence, resulting in 17.9 million working days lost in 2019/20.

The Covid pandemic has shone a spotlight on mental ill-health in the workplace with increased pressures from long covid, personal financial difficulty and new patterns of remote working all playing a part. Physical injuries at work have reduced substantially in recent decades but there has been a notable rise in work-related mental ill-health with a sharp increase between 2018/19 and 2019/20.

While there is scope for employers to make adjustments to work conditions, there has been little sustained improvement over the last two decades to address the known work-related risk factors that contribute to mental ill-health, indicating that there is need for a change in policy.

ReWAGE’s policy brief, Recovering better – improving mental health in the workplace, recommends that the government considers requiring employers to report on work-related risk factors for mental health in their annual company reports. These figures should include evidence from employees and be presented overall, by major occupational groups and by gender.

It also recommends that the reporting should be mandatory for public sector organisations and for private companies with 250 employers or more. This should be extended progressively to all private companies with 50+ employees.

Professor Chris Warhurst, co-chair of ReWAGE, explains:

“The approach of current policy needs to be rethought. Effective policy requires improved consultation with workers as a lever for creating healthier work conditions. There is also a need to reform company reporting to provide greater transparency about the quality of work conditions.

“The introduction of new monitoring and reporting requirements would promote the important of worker mental health within organisations and help to highlight the key factors that might be a danger to it. It also would provide a stronger sense of worker involvement in the search for practical improvements in the work process and contribute to higher organisational productivity.”

The most significant work-related risks to mental health are workload, poor quality line management, job insecurity and financial insecurity.

Steps that employers can take to prevent mental ill-health at work include giving workers more control over their immediate work tasks and a say in wider organisational decisions; giving employees the ability to upgrade and update their skills; and improving line management – including training line managers to support staff with mental ill-health issues.

About ReWAGE

ReWAGE is an independent expert advisory group modelled on SAGE, which supports government’s strategic response to the recovery and renewal of work and employment in the UK as it tackles the impact of Covid-19.

It is co-chaired by Professor Chris Warhurst of Warwick University and Professor Irena Grugulis of Leeds University. It comprises 35 work and employment experts from universities and civil organisations across the UK. Core funding is provided by the ESRC.

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