Bluechips share their mental health strategies

Government urged not to tax EAPs

Some of Britain's biggest employers including Barclays, Deloitte and Marks & Spencer have joined forces with the mental health charity Mind to outline solutions for managing mental health at work in a new report published today.

The recommendations are the fruit of a summit hosted by insurer AXA and Mind earlier this year that brought together senior figures from 16 leading organisations to discuss the challenges faced by employers in addressing mental distress in the workplace.

The Government must help employers to support staff, the summit concluded, with attendees expressing "grave concern" about a proposal to tax employee assistance programmes (EAPs) as an employee benefit in kind. They are currently exempt from taxation. 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. 

However, the attendees were also in favour of employers taking further steps to tackle mental health issues in the workplace. Recommendations in the report include educating local GPs about the workplace environment, discussing workplace adjustments with staff before they visit their GP and encouraging disclosure of mental ill-health.

In the wake of the recession, the report also stresses that a focus on the impact on employee mental health must be maintained during challenging periods such as restructuring, with support from occupational health and EAPs put in place where possible.

Mind also wants all employers to include details of management of mental health in the workplace in public reports. The latest research from Business in the Community shows that all FTSE 100 companies include some kind of health and wellbeing theme in their public reporting. However, only 15% report on the management of employees' psychological health.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: "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.

"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."

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


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