Making a Mental Note

Making a Mental Note

A recent Recruiter article highlighted an increase in the calls for the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to follow through on a manifesto promise to give mental health the same status as physical health in the workplace. At present, if you are a permanent, part-time or temporary worker, your employer must make sure that you and your fellow colleagues are protected from anything that may cause harm, thereby effectively controlling any risks to injury or health that could arise in your workplace.

When it comes to mental health, one of the challenges often referenced is that this form of ill-health is ‘unseen’ or ‘hidden’. For this reason, an employer – unless trained – may not be able to notice the signs of stress, anxiety or other mental health conditions. More broadly, measuring the prevalence of mental health problems is challenging for many reasons such as underfunding, the variation in diagnostic practices across the UK and the different surveying techniques of medical authorities and caregivers.

 

Running from the Numbers?

So what else could be stopping the PM moving this legislation forward and adding it to the existing Health and Safety at Work act 1974?

A primary concern must be the current statistics reported by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in their Annual Report (2017/2018). The report covers work-related ill health, workplace injuries, working days lost, the overall cost to Britain and the resulting enforcement action taken. These results showed:

  • 144 fatal injuries at work
  • 1.4 million working people suffering from a work-related illness
  • 30.7 million working days lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury
  • 493 cases were prosecuted and resulted in a conviction. Fines from convictions totalled £72.6 million

: a figure of specific interest is surely the 1.4 million working people suffering from work-related illness – how many of these are as a result of workplace related stress, anxiety or other mental health conditions that have manifested themselves in a form of physical reaction?

Returning to the challenges regarding to the variation in diagnostic practices, could their be a bigger challenge awaiting to be uncovered than originally surmised? Additionally, could the potential burden of additional cost to employers (for such things as training), be a reason why the Government haven’t pressed ahead with this manifesto promise?

Taking Action

One fact is very clear, the UK Government – whether manifesto pledge or not – needs to take definitive action to support and implement change in the workplace regarding mental health issues. Removing the ‘stigma’ of mental health is only a starting point.

The Mental Health Foundation is the UK’s charity for everyone’s mental health and they highlight that the workplace is not the only cause of mental health conditions; as an employer, you need to be aware that your employees are potentially facing these challenges before you employ them. In a report, the Health Inequalities Manifesto 2018, it refers to statistics such as:

  • one adult in six has experienced a common mental health problem
  • 50% of mental health problems are established by the age of 14 and 75% are established by the age of 21
  • between 25 and 40% of people with learning disabilities also experience mental health problems
  • childhood adversity has been shown to account for around a third of future mental health problems

: when you consider that these stats indicate that childhood, through teenage years and then University age individuals could already be faced with significant challenges, the question becomes – is the culture and environment of your business ready to support the next generation (Gen Z) that may require more from an employer than previous generations, such as the Millennials, owing to the socially connected – always ON – world they have grown up in.

More specifically, are you doing enough now to support your current employees?

What if your workplace is home?

An additional challenge for employers will be the changing structure of their workforce in terms of flexible working, working from home arrangements, freelancers and interims as these categories of workers no longer spend 40 hours+ in the office.

Without the ability to interact with these individuals on a daily basis, would that present more challenges for employers in terms of the infrastructure and policies they will need to implement to ensure the well being of their employees?

As a freelancer myself, my office is my home and I spend (currently) about 90% of my time in my home office; for this reason, the clients I engage with have little or no obligation to me regarding health and safety or mental well being. How far should the boundaries of an employers responsibilities extend?

In contrast, the Health and Safety guidance does require the employee to take responsibility for a duty of care to themselves and their fellow co-workers. This makes for an interesting point as a percentage of mental health issues are not, at first, acknowledged by the individual. There are many stories of individuals that have struggled because they have been unable to acknowledge the issues as the slow graduation into depression can give the appearance of normality.

 

Next Steps

If the Government is worried about the demands on UK employers, then perhaps they should take a different approach and empower the UK employee and provide them with laws that protect them, more rigorously, against such practices as the encouragement of extended working hours – too often employees are asked to opt-out or waive their rights in terms of the Working Time Regulations 1998 –  almost if it’s an annoyance that stands in the way of ‘real productivity!‘.

Employers also have to start asking simple questions about their culture and environment; is it inclusive, do employees feel empowered to approach potentially sensitive personal issues and challenges without the fear of stigma and, more importantly, if you ever experienced a similar experience – how would you want to be treated?

Find out your Mental Health Score

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