This article by Colin Nash is the second in a monthly series for Mid Somerset newspapers.
I delivered training on the topic of Better Mental Health in the Workplace in association with Heads Up in Wells. Attendees were from across the public, private and voluntary sectors. I learned that this is a topic that staff and managers are really waking up to but we all have a lot to learn.
The government commissioned a report last year called Thriving at Work. This tells us that poor mental health at work is costing employers between £33 and £42 billion a year across the UK – in Somerset alone that is between £132 and £150 million a year.
These costs are made up of absence from work, reduced productivity and other expenses such as additional recruitment and training new staff when workers are forced to leave.
But many of the costs can be reduced by creating a healthier workplace. This is not asking employers to become budding psychiatrists or therapists. It is just about creating a workplace culture that supports good mental health and acts the right way when people are struggling.
In many cases this is about simply putting a stop to negative behaviours in the workplace. How many of us have worked in a place where there is a culture of “attendeeism” – where you must be seen to be there even if you (and they probably) know you are not being productive. The need to be first in the office lest you may become first to be made redundant.
Employers need to be smarter, and be clear what they need from their workers beyond seeing them in the office. Workplaces can be stressful environments. But we can look at how we are operating so unnecessary stresses are not layered in.
As with so many areas of mental health, stigma plays an enormous part. All the research, and my own experience through training, shows that workers are very reluctant to open up about suffering from any form of mental health difficulty through fear of the response or the shame of admitting vulnerability.
We need to be aware that such stigma not only prevents the issue being addressed but can also compound the problem.
Thriving at Work sites good practice where employers make clear statements about being open around mental health, and provide training to HR departments and managers about how to support folk if they are struggling.
When people are absent through mental health issues, work with them about returning. During my recent training course at Heads Up someone spoke about all sort of arrangements that were put in place to help them return after back surgery but lamented that no such understanding was in place when a colleague returned following depression. Strange given the cost benefit of such a plan would probably be great and benefit the individual and their colleagues.