Tackling mental ill-health at work – how employers and policymakers can help

Published by  Communications

On 26th Apr 2023

A woman with her head in her hands at her desk.
Getty images.

A new publication by the University of East Anglia for work and employment expert group ReWAGE reviews the latest research in mental ill health at work and outlines what employers and policymakers can do to help. 

April is National Stress Awareness Month, an annual event held since 1992 to help raise awareness of the impact of stress on people’s lives and to help them make changes in their personal and professional lives to reduce stress and its effects on their physical and mental health. 

Evidence shows that working age common mental health problems in the UK, such as anxiety, stress, depression, are persistent and may be even increasing. In 2020/21, anxiety, stress and depression accounted for around 48% of workers experiencing work-related illnesses.

ReWAGE’s new paper: Work, jobs and common mental health problems – what guidance should employers receive? outlines actions that employers can take – both to prevent common employee mental health problems and to create workplaces conducive to recovery for those employees affected return to work at full capacity.

It also makes the case for current guidance for employers issued by Government departments and others to be supplemented and extended.

The paper, written for ReWAGE by Kevin Daniels, Professor in Organisational Behaviour at UEA’s Norwich Business School, argues that addressing working age common mental health problems would also provide a lever to address the Government’s levelling up agenda, which has wellbeing as a central component.

Prof Daniels said: “I’ve focused on anxiety, depression and stress-related conditions in this publication for ReWAGE, as these common mental health problems make up the vast majority of chronic mental-health issues amongst working age adults and are frequently linked with other health problems and productivity problems.

“A positive impact in tackling mental health could have a knock-on effect for many other areas of concern.

“Improving the quality of jobs should boost mental health, and reduce healthcare spend, sickness benefits and sickness absence, contributing to national economic performance.

“Improvements in jobs and management practices could help improve health and economic performance and at the same time address another element of the Government’s levelling up agenda in relation to jobs and employment.”

The paper reviews available guidance for employers issued by the Health and Safety Executive, the Department for Work and Pensions, influential non-governmental
organisations (NICE, ISO) and Public Health England and considers the potential to develop this much further. For example, current guidance provides too little information on how organisations manage the process of making improvements to jobs and developing managers’ capabilities. 

Recommendations in the paper include: 

1.    Extending existing guidance to employers on what actions reduce the burden of common mental health problems to include more information on how to manage the necessary changes.
2.    Introducing reporting under the Disability Confident Scheme to include actions taken by employers to prevent common mental health problems and other work-related health problems.
3.    Increasing support for local and regional authorities to work with employers, business support organisations and other institutions to promote good work and mental health.
4.    Developing a common, multi-layered framework to allow central Government to communicate how central, regional and local governments are addressing common mental health problems.

“There is evidence that improvements to jobs and management practices can deliver mental health benefits for employees, however there an often be initial obstacles for employers, such as financial resources, time constraints, or access to relevant, specialised professional knowledge,” said Prof Daniels.

“Such challenges may be particularly difficult to overcome for small and medium-sized businesses. 

“Improved guidance that focuses on how action can be taken, as well as on what action should be taken, would greatly help employers in making positive changes to how employees are managed and how jobs are performed.”


You can read the full paper here: 'Tackling mental ill-health at work – what actions employers and policymakers can take to help'.

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