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Workplace Stress Costing Employers Billions

Britain’s bosses unaware of the true scale of the problem

Britain's bosses are unaware of the scale of mental ill health in their workplaces or the enormous financial toll they can take, according to a new Position Statement [pdf]issued by the Faculty of Public Health (FPH).

Mental health problems like stress, anxiety and depression caused or made worse by work are by far the biggest cause of sickness absence, costing an estimated £13bn in sickness pay and lost productivity, not to mention a further £12bn in public service spending and carers' time.

And yet despite this, almost half (45 per cent) of employers believe that none of their staff has any mental ill health issues at all, and a staggering 80 per cent of directors admit their company has no policy to deal with stress and mental ill health in the workplace.

The competitive long hours culture in Britain's workplaces is taking its toll, with around 1 in 6 workers rating their job as ‘very' or ‘extremely' stressful.

Work-related mental ill health not only has a devastating effect on families and personal relationships, but is also inextricably linked with physical wellbeing. And this can often be just the start of a person's problems, with those returning to work after mental health-related sickness absence very often stigmatised and discriminated against – just 37 per cent of employers said they would consider employing someone who had a mental health problem.

The FPH statement, however, highlights that employers can do a great deal to protect and improve the mental health of their workforce. It calls on employers to both identify and reduce organisational causes of stress in their workplace, by consulting and working in partnership with staff and their representatives.

They must also make sure robust policies are in place to protect staff from bullying and discrimination based on issues like race, sex, disability or sexual orientation and ensure that staff feel able to report incidents when they occur. They should also take measures to raise awareness of mental health issues among their workforce as a whole and make sure that managers are properly trained in recognising and addressing them.

'Employers have statutory responsibilities to ensure the wellbeing of their staff and their mental health is a key part of that,' said FPH President, Prof Alan Maryon-Davis.

'By putting some very simple measures in place they can not only ensure a healthier workforce but also save money and boost their productivity. As is so often the case in public health, the people in the best position to make a difference are not necessarily those in the health service, but people in the boardroom, in offices and on the shopfloor who very often may not even realise the enormous contribution they can make.'

'We hope this position statement will highlight the scale of the problem and raise awareness of solutions,' said statement author Dr Jenny Bywaters, Senior Public Mental Health Adviser at the National Institute for Mental Health in England, and chair of the FPH's Mental Health Working Group.

'There is so much that can be done in the workplace to reduce stress and to help people cope with the unavoidable pressures of life. This means better health for staff and lower costs for employers and taxpayers - a real win-win for everyone.'


Notes to editors

  1. For further information contact Chloe Parkin or Lindsey Stewart, Faculty of Public Health T: 07886 960741 or 020 7935 3115
  2. The Faculty of Public Health recognises that mental health is a major public health issue. Mental health and work – a position statement [pdf] is the first of a series of statements that we will be issuing on mental health issues over the next few months.
  3. The Faculty of Public Health is the leading professional body for public health specialists in the UK. It aims to promote and protect the health of the population, and improve health services, by maintaining professional and educational standards, advocating on key public health issues, and providing practical information and guidance for public health professionals.


  • According to Mental Health: Britain's Biggest Social Problem (Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, 2004) the total economic cost of common mental health problems is £25bn, made up of £13bn in lost output and time off sick, £8bn public services expenditure and £4bn carers' time.
  • According to Mental health – the last workforce taboo (Shaw Trust, 2006), 45 per cent of employers thought none of their staff would be suffering from any form of mental ill health   One in six of all working people report that their job is either ‘very' or ‘extremely' stressful - Health and safety statistics 2005/06 (Health and Safety Commission, 2006).
  • Only 37 per cent of employers would consider employing someone with a mental health problem – Recruiting benefit claimants – a survey of employers in ONE pilot areas (DWP 2001)


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