As the days get shorter and temperatures drop, October has brought a welcome focus onto mental health in the workplace. First, Business In the Community (BITC) released its second nationwide survey of British employees in the Mental Health at Work Report 2017. This was shortly followed by the World Mental Health Day on 10th October, with workplace mental health issues under the spotlight once again, and rightly so.
According to ONS figures, we are spending almost a third of our week working1. So if our jobs are contributing to stress and other mental health issues, these won’t be confined to the office. For those of us with experience of work-related stress, we know how hard it is to prevent problems at work from affecting our personal lives. Through our work with BITC on this report, it’s clear that this is no small issue. In fact, the majority of employees across the country (60%) say they have experienced mental health issues either as a direct result of work, or where work was a contributing factor. It’s a troubling statistic, but increasing media coverage of awareness days and the work of non-profits such as BITC are helping to alleviate the situation. By talking about workplace wellbeing openly we can drive real positive change.
Employers are starting to recognise the considerable responsibility they have for the mental health of those that work for them. Over 90% of managers agreed that the actions they take affect their staff’s wellbeing, while a similar number (84%) agreed that they are personally responsible for managing this. However, acknowledgement is only the first step in the journey towards improving how we deal with mental health issues in the workplace. Unfortunately, awareness of responsibility doesn’t seem to translate into confidence from those that they manage. Almost half (42%) of employees responding to the BITC survey do not feel their manager is genuinely concerned about their wellbeing and just one in ten (11%) of those with a mental health issue have spoken to their managers about it. I was shocked to see that this can sometimes be with good reason – 15% of people who have taken the step to disclose a mental health issue to their employer responded that they either became subject to disciplinary procedures, were demoted or even sacked.
An employee losing their job solely for having the bravery to discuss mental health issues, in this day and age, is simply unacceptable. It also highlights the need to increase training and awareness for those individuals in positions of responsibility in the workplace. At present, less than a quarter (24%) of managers have received any training around mental health. The appetite is there though, as half of managers said they would welcome basic training in mental health.
This is where HR and talent development teams need to urgently step in. It is vital that ways to address mental health, and the training that supports this is rolled out across companies large and small. For those who work at smaller companies, it might seem like a stretch in resources, but since this affects people from all demographics, it should be a number one priority within any organisation. To help companies tackle the issue, BITC has developed a Mental Health Toolkit for Employers in partnership with Public Health England. This includes advice for SMEs, as well as larger organisations. If it’s not possible to create a full mental health and wellbeing policy, even a specific statement of intent can help send your company on the right course.
Recognising our own responsibility to help educate line managers and develop mental health policies internally, we run our own ‘Healthy Minds Initiative’. The aim is threefold; to build awareness, knowledge and transparency around mental health (wellbeing and resilience). The initiative is part of a wider programme we’ve developed around well-being, ‘Vibrant Living’. Developed with full support from our senior leadership team, we run a series of initiatives, events and activities through our Healthy Minds umbrella. It’s been incredibly inspiring to attend some of the talks by guest speakers and to hear real-life experiences from employees. A simple poster campaign that displayed quotes from senior leadership figures discussing their own struggles with mental health has also shown that these issues don’t discriminate.
To equip line managers to help people to address mental health issues, we’ve rolled out bespoke training sessions. Our ‘Healthy Minds Champions network’ also creates ‘Champions’ within the company who made visible and accessible for people to talk to. These volunteers are given a two day course in Mental Health first aid.
The message that we want to drive home – both across our business, and to every UK employer, is simple: we all have mental health, just as we have physical health. We all need to be proactive in managing our mental health and that of those we have a duty of care for. By taking small steps and talking to one another, we can make a big difference to the wellbeing of all our colleagues. We know the issues at hand – now it’s time to get to work.
Helen Tucker, Human Resources Director, Northern Europe at Procter & Gamble