As ‘burnout’ is deemed an ‘occupational hazard’, would mandatory mental health reporting help healthcare’s stress epidemic?

With work-related stress reaching epidemic proportions in the NHS, with levels as high as 38 per cent (up from 36 per cent in 2016), and the news that ‘burnout’ has now been classified as an occupational hazard by the WHO, would mandatory mental health reporting tackle the problem?

A new survey carried out ahead of World Mental Health Day on October 10th reveals that nearly 1 in 3 (30%) UK Employers now believe that mandatory public reporting of workplace mental health statistics would increase transparency and accountability as employers try to tackle this modern epidemic.

The survey of more than 150 HR professionals was conducted by Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing and considered the recommendations made in the Thriving at Work report  Stevenson/ Farmer review of mental health and employers. One of the report suggestions was that large employers (those with more than 500 employees) and all Public Sector organisations should implement a set of “enhanced” standards to improve the collective mental health of their employees.

The suggested enhanced standards include increasing transparency through internal and external reporting, demonstrating accountability, and improving the disclosure process.  Importantly, almost 1 in 3 (30%) employers were supportive of this suggestion, and more than half (52%) were open to the idea, subject to the detail of the requirements.  Only 14% of organisations thought these measures would not help.

Steve Herbert, Head of Benefits Strategy at Howden commented,

“The enhanced standards were suggested by the Stevenson / Farmer review two years ago, but they were initially only targeted at larger employers in the UK.   So we are delighted that many organisations of all sizes appear to now recognise the advantages of such an approach.  It’s likely that introducing these measures as a mandatory requirement – across employers of all sizes – might potentially strike a significant blow in the battle to improve workplace mental health.”

In healthcare, anything that helps them tackle stress can’t come too soon, because the pressures are seeing practitioners leave the profession altogether, with talent shortages exacerbating the problem

Mary O’Neill, Campaign Manager, Altadicta, who runs healthcare recruitment campaigns for the NHS says that in her experience, tackling stress and work/life balance have been hugely important in attracting talent back to the profession:

“In a climate where healthcare talent is scarce, tackling stress and burnout is key – in healthcare, people love their work, they just don’t like the stress that often accompanies it.

“Our recruitment campaigns, Best of Both Worlds in Northampton and Y/Our Future in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland have seen nursing and healthcare talent attracted back to the profession because both employers have worked really hard to get the work/life balance right – and people want to work for them.  It’s vital that other healthcare employers look to improve work/life balance and tackle stress to keep healthcare workers well, at work and enjoying their work.  Mandatory stress reporting could definitely help.”    

Herbert points to the recent introduction of Gender and Executive Pay Gap reporting as examples of mandatory reporting of workplace issues resulting in an additional and specific focus from employers.  It follows that if the same approach were applied to workplace mental health statistics, it might well produce a similarly positive response.

Herbert continued,

“Poor workplace mental health is often a hidden issue.  As such it will benefit all concerned if company level data was made public, and it would also provide the foundation for many more employers to take corrective actions as necessary.  It will be interesting to see if such an approach becomes mandated by legislation across a wide range of employers.”

Within the NHS, where stress is a widely acknowledged issue, the latest figures reveal that mental health absences account for over 30 per cent of sickness absence in the NHS, costing the service £300-400 million per year.

The Howden Employee Benefits survey found that employers may be experiencing very different levels of ill-health absenteeism as a result of poor mental health, anxiety, or stress.   Almost half (44%) of respondents thought these conditions accounted for between 20% and 40% of their total sickness absence figures.  But other responses suggested a very wide variance indeed, with 1 in 10 employers suggesting that these conditions accounted for more than half of their corporate absenteeism, and the same number indicating that these conditions were the cause of less than 10% of overall absence.

Herbert concluded,

“However employers choose to look at this issue, it is clear poor workplace mental health is bad news for both the employee and the employer and is a measure that all good organisations are now actively looking to improve.  There is a wide-range of Employee Benefits offerings that can assist in this mission, and we would strongly encourage more employers to seek professional assistance in using these tools as part of a robust mental health plan and solution.”