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Adam Bannister is a freelancer journalist who has held various editorial positions, including as editor of SHP's partner publication for security & fire safety, IFSEC Insider (formally IFSEC Global).
April 28, 2023

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Mental health

‘Person-centred support needn’t cost a penny’ – Mind’s Andrew Berrie previews Safety & Health Expo 2023 presentation

Berrie will offer tips and strategies for creating a healthy, productive workforce at London ExCeL next month.

Andrew Berrie, Mind’s Head of Workplace Wellbeing

Marked progress in prioritizing workplace wellbeing and mental health has been checked by the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis, recent research from mental health charity Mind suggests.

Against this turbulent backdrop, Mind’s Head of Workplace Wellbeing Andrew Berrie is due to urge attendees at Safety & Health Expo next month to ‘support employee mental health in challenging times’ through person-centred support.

Taking place at London ExCeL, the talk will have four strands: findings from Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index; tools for adopting the Mental Health at Work Commitment to create a healthy, productive workforce; equipping staff with the tools to tackle mental health stigma and work-related poor mental health; and tips for co-producing a Wellness Action Plan with employees.

Mind is an official charity partner of Safety & Health Expo 2023.

SHP: Can you give us a quick overview of the findings of Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index and the implications for businesses?

Andrew Berrie (AB): While overall mental health has improved compared to 2020/21, we have found that fewer employees say they will take time off for mental and physical health issues. There was a 4.5% increase in employees describing their mental health as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, and 2.9% fewer respondents reporting that they had experienced a mental health problem while working for their current employer.

But this is countered by a 4.7% decrease in respondents taking time off for poor mental health and a 4% increase in employees stating that they would always go to work while experiencing poor physical health. Going to work when you’re ill is known as presenteeism and we know that when we go to work ill, we’re less productive and might delay our recovery.

Employers should consider how they create an environment in which employees feel able to be honest in how they are feeling and take the time they need to protect their health and work at their best.

Our research also identified a 6% decrease in employees disclosing mental health problems to their employers compared to last year as well as a 3.1% drop in those who felt comfortable doing so.

Questions focused on the reasoning behind nondisclosure identified a 6.1% increase in worry that disclosing would impact their working relationship with their employer, a 5% rise in worry over a lack of understanding from their employer and a 4.7% increase in those who thought their employer couldn’t help, amongst other factors.

Employers need to reflect on how they create an environment in which managers can have person-centred conversations with their team members and employees feel safe and encouraged to disclose [issues].

Some 10.8% fewer people of colour and 14.1% fewer younger employees (in the 18-24 age bracket) reported disclosing a mental health problem when compared with other employees, with 6.3% fewer people of colour and 7.1% fewer young employees stating they felt comfortable doing so.

We know in times of recession that stigma hardens and those who might feel most vulnerable to change management processes or redundancy conversations might feel less comfortable in disclosing their needs for support. Employers should therefore look to reassure employees that disclosure and a person’s health won’t play any part in future decision-making in relation to staffing.

SHP: Can you give any examples of how businesses can support their employees’ mental health at modest financial cost? 

supportAB: It makes sense for line managers to play a key role in employee mental health, as they likely have the greatest face time with the member of staff and are responsible for team workloads and prioritization, and are the first port of call for team members seeking to access support or engage in conversations around workplace adjustments.

Our Workplace Wellbeing Index has demonstrated the significant impact supportive line managers can have.

Respondents who feel their line manager supports their mental health are more than twice as likely to report good mental health than those who do not (62% against 29%).

And respondents who characterise their working relationships with their line manager as effective are more than three times as likely to report feeling generally happy at work over the last month (70% against 18%).

Being a supportive line manager and having person-centred conversations does not need to cost a penny.

At Mind we encourage every member of staff to complete a Wellness Action Plan. A Wellness Action Plan enables a team member to reflect on what supports them to work at their best, and what support they need from their manager, co-workers and, if working from home, others in their household.

It also provides a space for a member of staff to consider what activities they can undertake proactively to support their own wellbeing and what signs their manager should perhaps look out for if they might be struggling. A Wellness Action Plan can be a great way of beginning a conversation around what supports us all best work and begin a conversation with others around how to best work as a team across differing ways of working.

Uncertainty around what is expected of them or a lack of clarity on work required, priorities and deadlines can be a common source of anxiety for employees. Putting in place regular catchups with team members to clearly communicate these expectations, and support with prioritisation and to work through any barriers or challenges can be of great support to many employees.

Managers who familiarise themselves with their workplace mental health policy and support available internally through employer-purchased services and externally through the NHS or charities such as Mind, can also ensure that when employees do disclose poor mental health or require support, they are confident in the policy they should follow and where best they can signpost a team member to.

SHP: Mental health and wellbeing is an increasingly major focus for UK organizations but a relatively recent concern compared to other health and safety issues. How much progress has been made so far?

AB: The publication of Thriving at Work in 2017, commissioned by Theresa May and written by former Mind CEO Paul Farmer and Lord Dennis Stevenson, really marked a turning point in organisational focus and the prioritisation of employee mental health and wellbeing in the UK.

It demonstrated for the first time the significant cost of poor mental health to UK employers and the wider economy. For senior leaders, this highlighted not only the moral case for improving workplace conditions, practices and support, but also the business case.

The Mental Health at Work Commitment was launched in 2019 to encapsulate the recommended standards and best practice guidance for employers. Since its launch over 2,500 organisations employing over 4.5 million people across the UK have signed the commitment and implemented changes in policy, practice and culture to best support their people.

Over this period our Workplace Wellbeing Index has consistently shown a growing number of employees believe that their organisation encourages openness on mental health and wellbeing and provides organisational support for mental health at work. However, 2021-22 demonstrated the first fall in these measures in five years, suggestive of what many are describing as ‘wellbeing fatigue’ post-pandemic.

Given the long-term impact of the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and numerous other environmental factors, it remains paramount that employee mental health and wellbeing is on senior leaders’ agendas.

SHP: What are the most significant barriers to progress on this front?

AB: Many organisations cite costs as a barrier but it is entirely possibly to implement all six standards of the Mental Health at Work Commitment without the purchase of any external tools or support.

However, we recognise that organisational change does require an investment of time that many organisations that have faced challenges relating to Brexit, the pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis feel unable to provide – even if it might make business sense in the medium to long term.

A significant number of SMEs in particular also struggle with the impact of the current NHS waiting lists on support. Whilst managers and small business owners are able to provide person-centred support, explore reasonable workplace adjustments and reflect on working policy, practice and conditions to consider where they might make improvements, they are not able to provide professional health support.

The impact of these waiting lists can therefore mean that those in need of professional support are not receiving it and might fall further ill or need to take time out of work altogether.

This is why it is so important that government continue to invest in our NHS, but also why employers should ensure that their working practices create an environment that ensures work is not a contributor to poor mental health.

Andrew Berrie will be speaking on Wednesday 16 May at 13.25 in Safety & Health Expo’ Keynote Theatre, which is sponsored by IOSH. The event takes place 16-18 May at the ExCel, London. Register to attend here.

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Harold A Maio
Harold A Maio
1 year ago

What does it take to convince people there is a stigma to mental health issues? 

Persistence. Organization. Determination. Broad cooperation.

We seem to lack none of the above. 

Harold A Maio, retired mental health editor