Reports show that 1 in 4 adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in a given year.
40% of long term absence is caused by stress and mental illness. There are no signs that it is decreasing. This article looks at what key aspects of an employer’s culture will nurture and support good mental health.
Recognising signs of stress and mental health problems is not easy, especially in the workplace. From an individual’s perspective, no high flyer wants to admit that their various work/life buckets are overflowing and that something might have to stop or change. City workers are notable for putting themselves under considerable pressure, because of unnecessary fears of personal failure. City working can feed this behaviour, with increased pressure from employers due to streamlining teams and no concomitant reduction in workload.
Open discussion on mental health is a breath of fresh air. To hear that it is possible to re-enter the workplace, in the same job, with a leading city employer, after suffering some sort of mental health breakdown is amazing. It is inspiring.
Employers have a responsibility to ensure that employees are fit for a job, will be happy (in the main) and looked after doing it. Stress is not a medical condition. Most of us need (is “enjoy” going too far?) a reasonable amount of stress to work productively. Only when stress levels get too high, can stress cause problems. That’s not just individual health problems, but problems for the employer as it can manifest itself in terms of irrational behaviour; bullying (stress can cause bullying or cause vulnerability to bullying); loss of swift decision making capabilities; and, of course, absenteeism. A broader impact this can have on the employer might include loss of talent or reputation. Employers have a vested interest in getting it right and evidence demonstrates that there are key benefits for businesses that promote and invest in positive mental health at work.
So, what good aspects can you look out for in an employer’s culture?
• Workplace training designed to help build resilience against work pressures and the negative outcome that can sometimes lead to ill health
• A culture that promotes good mental health through learning and discussion. There should be no stigma attached to acknowledging that mental health problems. Learning what different mental conditions are helps break down myths. Is there a stress or well-being policy?
• Other training might include assertiveness training, mindfulness and where necessary modify work methods such as flexible working to assist employees to achieve a better work/life balance.
• Review health and safety policy to ensure it addresses the particular issues arising in connection with mental health. Ensure that the person in the business charged with responsibility for delivering the outcomes of the stress policy is someone who will be seen as sufficiently senior to support and deliver the desired culture.
• Ensure all employees know what they can do if they are suffering from mental health problems and what support is available eg internal occupational health, external employee assistance programmes or telephone helplines.
• Review workplace conditions to gain early insight into the nature of the work undertaken so that problems are prevented. Where there are examples of health problems or where there are other indicators of problems as highlighted from exit interviews or high turnover rates conduct a risk assessment to gain an understanding of the problem and possibly conduct a stress audit which asks employees to talk about their concerns and where necessary how working conditions could be improved.
• Review policies in place such as those designed to promote equal opportunities and those designed to prevent bullying and harassment. Policies designed to allow employees to give voice to problems such as grievance policies should try to avoid adversarial hearings and where appropriate be supportive of those with mental health issues so allowing them to present their concerns.
• Review employee benefits to identify what can be provided to employees to support them in work and what steps can be taken to control costs so that the benefits are maintained and not lost due to excessive costs.
• Review the support given to employees who report mental health problems and who suffer from a disability to ensure that that appropriate action is taken to make any reasonable adjustments to their working conditions.
Maudsley Learning at Work (MLaW) in partnership with Charles Russell Speechlys has developed an online survey that will take a snapshot of some of the key concerns and current approaches to addressing mental health issues in the workplace which will be shared at the seminar and workshop entitled “Mental Health in the Workplace” on 28 September, 2016.
Mental Health Stats
- Mental illness affects 1 in 4 each year
- 55% – 70% of those suffering from anxiety and depression are in work
- Stress-related illnesses according to HSE account for 35% of all work-related ill health problems and 43% of days lost in 2014/15.
- Source: Maudsley Learning at Work
About the Author – Emma Bartlett:
Emma advises on all aspects of employment law including unlawful discrimination, whistleblowing, equal pay, unfair dismissal, breach of contract, restrictive covenants, protecting confidential information, boardroom disputes and claims under TUPE. She has experience in obtaining and executing interim injunctions against former employees who have breached confidentiality and/or restrictive covenant provisions. Emma also leads diversity issues for the employment team and as Diversity Partner for the firm.
With a strong record in negotiating and resolving complex employment disputes, Emma is considered a skilled deal broker. She is a specialist in contentious discrimination matters and has significant experience in handling high value contentious claims for employers and senior individuals.
Emma acts for employers, employees and trade unions. Her client base is broad, both in terms of the range of work and the sectors in which they operate