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Mental health in the Workplace

29 September 2016

Mental health is often thought of as a measure of unhappiness, imbalance or even mental illness. In fact, mental health is a measure of the state of our minds.  It is a key determinant of the workplace environment as it affects employee productivity, engagement and team relationships. The Office for National Statistics found in a study that “Output per hour in the UK was 18 percentage points below the average for the rest of the major G7 advanced economies in 2014, the widest productivity gap since comparable estimates began in 1991.”

Recent reports by ACAS suggest that the cost of poor mental health to businesses amounts to £30 billion every year. This startling figure shows this is a significant problem and there are no signs it is decreasing. Accordingly the issue should be at the top of the business agenda when looking at ways to improve business performance.

To help employers with practical guidance to address this issue, Charles Russell Speechlys teamed up with Maudsley Learning at Work and hosted a workshop session for clients and contacts on 28 September 2016. As part of this, the team ran a survey in July to help understand the current approaches businesses are taking to address mental health issues in the workplace, which produced some interesting statistics. For example, there appears to be a distinct disconnect between the number of people who believe their companies have initiatives in place to address mental health (65% of respondents) and the number who feel comfortable discussing their mental health within the workplace (42% of respondents).

A summary report of the survey can be found here:

Download the report

Workshop speakers

  • Jane Beston – Learning Director, Maudsley Learning at Work
  • Maggi Rose – Lead Facilitator, Maudsley Learning at Work
  • Emma Bartlett – Partner, Charles Russell Speechlys
  • David Green – Partner, Charles Russell Speechlys

The recommendations discussed during the event included:

  1. Understanding mental health - what it means and who owns it: It is important that businesses promote good mental health through learning and discussion to supplement policies and procedures. There is no point in having the right policies and procedures in place if the culture doesn’t allow for people to speak openly about their conditions.
  2. Tackling stigma, challenging thinking and using the right language: If the stigma attached to mental health is removed, through education, awareness and training, individuals will feel more comfortable discussing this. By training employees to use the right terminology with regard to mental health, they will be more confident to have the discussions, which in turn create a better culture. It is important to recognise that stress is not a diagnosis in itself, or a diagnosis of mental illness. Stress is a descriptor and relates to the exertion of pressure. Stress can be caused by a number of factors which are not related to mental illness – employers have a responsibility to understand what employees mean when they say they are feeling 'stressed'. This should then help inform what reasonable adjustments need to be made.
  3. Improve on existing people leader/line manager confidence in relation to mental health: Equipping leaders and line managers with a new knowledge base, built on fact rather than fiction, goes a long way towards improving overall confidence. It is important that leader/line managers are seen to take steps to make reasonable adjustments to encourage people to stay in work. It is important to review these adjustments in light of the medical records and not just to rely on occupational health reports. Reasonable adjustments can include supervision support, non-work companions, transferring to a new role, allowing for flexible working and additional breaks.
  4. Moving towards new knowledge, new ways of thinking and a culture of prevention: Prevention is as important as reaction (if not more) i.e. promoting positive relationships as opposed to reacting to bullying.
  5. Positioning mental health in its broadest sense within commonplace business practice: There are key benefits for businesses that promote and invest in positive mental health at work. These businesses do not see mental health as an ‘initiative’, or something that is addressed by the Employment Assistance Programme.
  6. Ensuring awareness of legal obligations and putting in place policies and procedures: Effective policies and procedures will help businesses prevent and defend any claims as well as comply with their legal obligations. By having a “wellbeing” rather than a “stress” policy, this will not only encourage positive mental health, but will also help to alleviate the stigma attached to the interpretation of what is considered to be stress and what is considered to be a clinical mental health condition. Follow the ACAS guidelines and do allow for, and encourage, a phased return to work.

Charles Russell Speechlys and Maudsley Learning at Work will be running practical workshops to provide further training including policy drafting sessions to clients. To find out more or to book a course, please contact Vlada Penlington, Maudsley Learning at Work, at 07825 77 52 33 / vlada@maudsleylearning.com