Article / Employee Benefits
Employees’ Mental Health Should Not Be Overlooked

Risk managers need to assess where responsibility for managing mental health risk sits and to focus on evidence-based, decision-making to improve outcomes for employer and employee alike.

Chris Rofe
Senior Vice President
Employee Benefits, London
Tel: (+44) (0) 207 933 2876

This article first appeared in Insurance Day [[]], as part of a special feature on Talent Management, 11 May 2015, and has been reproduced with the publisher’s permission.

Employee risk is now firmly on the agenda for corporates and multinationals. The well-worn mantra that people are a firm’s greatest asset has matured into a recognition that human capital assets require just as much care and attention – if not more - from a risk management point of view as any other key business asset.

The downside risks of getting it wrong are clear. It is no coincidence that employee risk strategies are being put at the centre of leading organisations’ approach to people management just as mental health becomes the issue of the day for many boards. The mental health debate is accelerating fast,  evidenced by the language we are starting to use to discuss the challenges. “Cancer” as a generic term is becoming outdated – we understand that there are different cancers with different impacts, outcomes and treatments. The language of mental health is also changing – we talk about stress, anxiety, depression, depersonalisation as different conditions, requiring different approaches and solutions.

According to the OECD Policy Framework published in March 2015, at any given moment, some 20% of the working age population suffers from a mental illness, and 50% of workers will suffer a period of poor mental health during their lifetime.  If labour markets are to function well, it is therefore important that policymakers address the interplay between mental health and work[1].

Reporting and screening

Our research suggests large companies are finding it difficult to deliver against the mental health agenda when it comes to reporting and screening.  For instance, analysis of the public filings and websites of the FTSE 100 which we conducted recently uncovered that 88% of the FTSE 100 did not report on their 2014 mental health statistics. Only four FTSE 100 companies (GlaxoSmithKline, Reed Elsevier, Royal Mail and WPP) met the criteria for all of the aspects covered in the Lockton analysis, which ranged from having employee wellbeing programmes in place through to acknowledging mental health issues in their workforce and specifically reporting mental health stats.

Figure 1: FTSE 100 Mental Health Programmes and Reporting (2014)

While 89% of the FTSE 100 do now report on employee wellbeing generally, 47% have employee assistance programmes, and 31% have health and wellness screening programmes in place, when it comes to mental health more specifically, only 42% of the FTSE 100 acknowledge mental health as an issue, only 30% reported they have programmes specifically targeted at mental health in their workforce and only 12% reported the volume of mental health cases in their workforce in 2014. This is despite the fact that just over two-fifths of organisations have noticed an increase in reported mental health problems among employees in the past 12 months, with larger organisations particularly likely to report an increase, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development[2].

Careful planning and ongoing vigilance – and then reporting and measuring progress and success - is therefore vital.  Employees need to know exactly where to go and who to contact if they experience mental health challenges while in post. They also need the security of knowing that mental health will be treated exactly as what it is – an illness – and given the proper support, treatment and confidence to return to work when fit to do so. Mental health must not be stigmatised or downplayed; if the fear factor is there, employees will not feel able to speak out and the problems are likely to increase.

Risk managers need to be up-to-date with the latest thinking and skills in order to identify and mitigate mental health risk within the business. The Government’s Fit For Work guidance, plus the changes to the Mental Health Act are the “big two” but there are other, more granular regulatory and best practice changes underway which should also be assessed. Close working with HR, line managers and senior decision-makers to ensure the company’s approach to mental health risk is transparent, consistent and compliant is key.


Organisations need help to approach mental illness effectively in terms of prevention, identification and intervention. They need a methodology which draws on various disparate data sources to accurately assess the mental health impact on their business. We find that an initial “deep dive” data-gathering exercise, coupled with additional external insight and benchmarking, enables an organisation to deal with this highly complex and sensitive area with greater confidence and focus. 

Our industry is guilty of overuse of technical jargon and labelling of services – if someone is ill, they just want to get better. Whether support is sourced from an employee assistance programme, a private medical insurance scheme, a group income protection cover or any other service the patient simply needs better signposting and an ease of navigation to access help.  At the same time the employer wants to meet their contractual and moral obligations in the most cost-effective way possible and to expedite an employee’s return to health and therefore, productivity. 

Risk managers need to asses where responsibility for managing mental health risk sits, and to focus on evidence-based decision-making to ensure good governance. Risk managers can become the catalyst for change when it comes to corporates’ approach to dealing with mental health issues and improve outcomes for employer and employee alike in doing so.


[1] OECD Policy Framework, 4 March 2015, p3

[2] Absence Management, CIPD Annual Survey Report 2014, p6

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