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ukactive update: Workplace mental health

Following the release of a new report on mental health in the workplace, ukactive’s public affairs director Huw Edwards, highlights physical activity’s role in workplace wellbeing

By Huw Edwards, ukactive | Published in Health Club Management 2017 issue 11
Employees who exercise can experience better mental wellbeing at home and work / shutterstock
Employees who exercise can experience better mental wellbeing at home and work / shutterstock
Evidence shows that people who exercise regularly have improved self-esteem and reduced stress and anxiety

There has been a lot of fanfare and attention on the much-needed new report into mental wellbeing in the workplace, Thriving at Work, led by Paul Farmer, CEO of the mental health charity Mind, and Lord Dennis Stevenson. The attention is fully merited as the report thoroughly sets out the occupational impact of mental illness and proposes solutions that employers are able to implement.

According to the report, the annual cost of poor mental health to the UK economy is up to £99bn, of which about £42bn is borne by employers. The authors found that approximately 15 per cent of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition, suggesting that, given the right support, they can thrive in employment.

The report also links current failures to the UK’s relatively poor productivity. An analysis by Deloitte, examining existing workplace mental health interventions, identified the potential to generate a return to business of between £1.50 and £9 for every £1 invested.

This is a comprehensive piece of work and should be welcomed. It comes up with worthy suggestions for change: open conversations about mental health in the workplace, monitoring employee mental health and wellbeing, and developing an effective mental health at work plan.

It also wants to make Statutory Sick Pay more flexible to help with a phased return to work for those who are starting to recover from an illness, and for employers to accept sick notes from mental health nurses as well as doctors.

One observation is that the weight of expectation does fall heavily on the employer, so can the government do more by providing a better landscape to encourage employers further?

What the report doesn’t address is the role of physical activity in this vision, which is surprising given that the government has already acknowledged the significant part our sector has to play in this agenda. Sporting Future outlines the government’s clear commitment to “work with others to establish a network of employers that will bring together organisations keen to support and encourage their staff to be more physically active”.

Two years on, we await news on the development of this network, knowing that both the physical activity and business sectors remain keen to support its development. Furthermore, the government has the ability to use the tax system to create incentives that help workers access gym membership and home equipment deals, a case we at ukactive continue to make to it.

The connection of this commitment back to the report is clear: evidence shows that people who exercise regularly have improved self-esteem and reduced stress and anxiety, something that has been recognised within NICE guidelines. The workplace should be no different.

It’s time for the government to show greater emphasis on delivering a partnership between the business community and our sector, so the role of physical activity in supporting mental wellbeing is fully recognised and utilised.
'It's time for the government to show greater emphasis on delivering a partnership between the business community and the fitness sector' – Huw Edwards, ukactive public affairs director
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