Employee mental health issues should be viewed no differently than a broken leg

Employment & Skills | Healthcare | Reports

Business Leader recently hosted a roundtable debate in partnership with Priory Group – where we discussed mental health in the workplace.

The panel debate included; James Hannam (Priory Healthcare), Justin Smith (NatWest), Steve Ashworth (Smith & Williamson), Dr Rebecca Slinn (Priory Healthcare), Gareth Thomas (VWV), Su Akgun (Osborne Clarke), Steve Preston (Heat Recruitment), Claire Reed (Aon), Simon Girling (BDO), Don Webber (UWE), Marc Watters (Metro Bank), Nigel Morrison (Grant Thornton), Duncan Battshill (Altrix Consulting) and Ian Rummels (PES).

How can the Priory Group support businesses?

James Hannam: “Priory offers high quality private mental health treatment. Every year our private mental health and addictions services support over 10,000 people through inpatient, day patient and outpatient treatment.

“Priory can support companies and their employees in increasing employee engagement and awareness of mental health challenges, along with providing support for those who need it, regardless of the mental health condition or its severity.”

What are the most common types of mental health issues you are seeing within businesses?

Dr Rebecca Slinn: “As you would expect stress is very common in the workplace and if this gets out of hand, this is where a psychiatrist may become involved.

“It can be a problem when it goes on for months and employees start to take time off from work. My advice would be to try and tackle it early and be open and honest about its impact from the beginning.”

What wellbeing initiatives are you running in your businesses?

Su Akgun: “At Osborne Clarke we’ve found that training mental health champions has made a positive impact as it employees friendly voice that they can talk to about how they’re feeling; and somebody that can signpost them to other services.”

Claire Reed: “For us, it’s been about creative a culture of openness and information – and placing emphasis on assessing where risks may be and then providing a support infrastructure around this.”

Justin Smith: “Culture is one thing, but it means nothing unless you embed it in your workplace and provide the necessary support to staff.

“We have gone through a major change at RBS, looking at how we deal with health and wellbeing as a group.

“I went in with little knowledge and whilst it’s important that the bank has an infrastructure in place, if you don’t know some of the signs and clues for when people are having issues – then it will not be effective.

“What also helps is when high-profile celebrities or business leaders come out and say they have had mental health issues. It becomes more accepted and not seen as a weakness.”

How viable is it to roll out health and wellbeing programmes for SMEs?

Steve Preston: “We work a peer-to-peer system where you can team up with another colleague and we also have wellbeing teams. This has helped to create a culture of openness and an understanding that we take the situation seriously.

“Naturally, we don’t have the budgets of a large corporate, but SMEs can still take positive steps.”

What tips would you give to employers – on how best to tackle mental health issues?

Dr Rebecca Slinn: “Employees tackling mental health issues are often told to have as much time off as they want but to be 100% when come back to work. That adds a huge pressure for some people – as who will come back to work and be 100% – who is ever 100%?

“It’s also important to understand that just because people have an issue now – it doesn’t mean they will forever and it doesn’t mean they are weak; or that they should be ruled out for promotion. It should be viewed no differently than a broken leg.”

Steve Preston: “Statistics show that people suffering from mental illness is very high. If you have a workforce of 100 staff, you are likely to have around 25 of those that have suffered from mental health problems.”

How are you dealing with the issue of health and wellbeing in the workplace?

Simon Girling: “Health is a very personal issue and I think it can be separated out from wellbeing – which is more open to official initiatives created by employers like mindfulness and yoga classes.

“Echoing what many others in the room have said – key for us has been to create an infrastructure in the business whereby employees have a member of staff they know they can come to regarding health and wellbeing.”

How do we tackle workers who are more isolated?

Duncan Battishill: “This is more difficult, especially when a business is under pressure. They key is to equip managers and leaders in the business with the ability to spot changes in behaviours and little signals to they can then refer to a specialist.

“In addition to this, it’s also important to do the basics such as regular updates and appraisals with employees.”

Are businesses taking health and wellbeing more seriously?

Ian Rummels: “It is a more common topic of conversation than it was even twelve moths ago. I would say there is still a tendency to say that because we offer fruit on a Friday or have yoga sessions, we’ve covered health and wellbeing.

“It’s much more than this though and it needs to become part of the DNA for each organisation. The reality is, if you invest in health and wellbeing it’s likely your staff will be more productive, but businesses need to see the evidence for that.”

Marc Watters: “At Metro Bank we have made a simple change which is to have a ration of three to one for direct reporting, so managers aren’t looking after thirteen or fourteen people but a much smaller number.

“We’re also looking to create a culture where we look at the root cause of absenteeism, rather than just going down the usual disciplinary route.”

Gareth Edwards: “We get to deal with lots of different businesses and there is still lots more that managers and leaders can do, to lead people better and understand the impact we have on people.

“Communication is key and giving employees a clear career structure and realistic performance targets. When it’s gone wrong, it’s generally because communication has been poor and people have gone off work sick instead of talking about the issue they are facing.”

What difference does the environment you work in make?

Nigel Morrison: “Before we embarked on our office move, we asked people how do you want to work? This is because we realise that the worlds of work and life do overlap – more now than ever.

“We have traditional work spaces, in addition to more modern working practices and whilst I can’t provide any hard evidence it’s clear that employees are happier and more productive.

“People just want to be trusted and there is a danger of feeling that you must be in the office all the time – just to be seen that you are there. If you trust people, they will respond with trust and work can be completed in a different way.”

Justin Smith: “Modern approaches to working can have challenges though. I like to feel the heartbeat of the team and some of the issues we were talking about earlier, regarding spotting the signs of mental health problem are more difficult if your staff are working remotely.”

Priory Group recently provided a guide on ‘How to combat mental strain and stress’ – it can be viewed here.

For more information on mental health solutions in the workplace see Priory’s Business pages: http://www.priorygroup.com/workplace-mental-health-solutions.

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  1. A mentally healthy culture is a work place without stigma. This means that we all understand that 100% of us have mental health and so we have a responsibility to look out for each other. This message requires sustainable input through L&D and support from senior leaders.

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