By Max Goldbart, Monday 23 October 2017
Many of us have been told to ‘man up’ or ‘get a grip’ at some point in our careers – but the days when they were the stock response to someone suffering from mental illness are, thankfully, by and large gone.
However, while mental health awareness in the workplace is on the rise, all too often employers across all sectors still struggle to know how to confront the issue when it impacts a member of their team.
World Mental Health Day, which took place on 10 October, looks to challenge the assumptions and taboos surrounding mental health and make those struggling feel they can tackle the issue head on, and there are now a number of workplace-based schemes aimed at improving attitudes.
Organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) are looking to address these issues for those in the private sector who may not have access to help that has been tailored towards benefitting public-sector workers. The FSB ran an #FSBWellbeing campaign on Twitter throughout September, highlighting steps to improve physical and mental health in the workplace and issuing a Wellbeing in Small Business guide.
But as the UK wakes up to issues surrounding mental health – especially in men (suicide is the number-one cause of death for men aged between 20 and 49 in England and Wales), sectors such as print, which are heavily male-dominated, may find it difficult to tackle the stigma behind the statistics.
“Anecdotally we know that we are dealing with more people with mental health problems than a year ago, and it may be that we are spending more time with them,” says Neil Lovell, chief executive of The Printing Charity (TPC), whose in-house welfare team works with more than 400 beneficiaries, many of whom suffer mental health issues.
Lovell believes the most effective action his charity can offer, as a first port of call, is to direct those who need help to the most-relevant specialist organisation.
“We don’t have the marketing might or funds of some of the bigger charities or commercial organisations, but if we believe there is help needed with mental health then we will signpost to the likes of Mind and others that specialise. Signposting is the most effective way of getting people the help they need.”
Since his appointment last year, Lovell has looked to shake up the way his charity deals with mental health and wellbeing, quadrupling the size of the welfare team and introducing an internal Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to practise what he preaches and assist those that may be struggling within the charity.
One of the new welfare staff, Steph Hughes, has plenty of experience helping the hardest to reach, with previous roles including child sexual exploitation unit project worker at Barnardo’s and community manager in a detention centre.
“It’s very different to what I’ve done before because it’s a small team,” says Hughes.
“We can receive a phone call and very quickly have to provide support, whether it’s financial, signposting or whatever is needed.
“It is about understanding complex needs and complex situations because our beneficiaries are changing and things are becoming more complex with regards to the likes of housing. People are losing their housing, becoming homeless; mental health is a reflection that when these things happen it has a huge impact.”
Alongside those with mental health issues, TPC looks to aid others that are struggling to get into work, such as former prisoners, army veterans and the physically disabled, backing up a recent FSB undertaking to pressure the government into following through with its manifesto pledge to provide a one-year National Insurance holiday to firms hiring those furthest from the labour market. TPC regularly receives referrals from the SSAFA armed forces charity and it has recently partnered with Bound by Veterans to fund a bindery qualification for former soldiers.
All companies great and small
Within the sector, companies such as Communisis and Prinovis have followed TPC’s example in opting for EAPs and are reaping the rewards.
At the end of Mental Health Awareness week in May, the Communisis board agreed to sign a Time to Change employer pledge, committing to upskilling its HR team with mental health first aid and creating mental health and wellbeing groups across the business.
From chief executive to intern, HR director Andrew Neal has been delighted with how the group has embraced the pledge.
“We want to facilitate the ability to start a conversation with no judgement and no preconceived ideas,” says Neal.
“It starts at the top with the chief executives of the industries. They are the ones that set the culture, make it okay for the HR teams or the managers to take notice of what is happening. But the rationale is that this will never work as a top-down initiative, you can’t just tell people to do it, it has to grow organically and be what people want.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Belfast-based commercial printer TH Jordan is proof that, when it comes to addressing these challenges, size doesn’t matter.
After meeting a recovering mental health sufferer around six years ago, managing director of the circa-20-staff firm Jim Parkhill was inspired to take action, introducing an internal mental health buddy system.
Working with named charities, MindWise and, more recently, Inspire!, which both provide advice and support, TH Jordan currently employs three mental health sufferers, each paired with a buddy.
“We try to get rid of the stigma and get people to understand that asking is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength to confront it,” says Parkhill.
“If the industry in general was to step back and reassess the whole way mental health is treated then maybe things would move forward.”
A stark warning from a rare male print proponent of speaking out on mental health. For now, it appears that print is just at the start of this particular shift in workplace culture.
Taking care of wellbeing works out well for everyone
Mike Cherry, national chairman, Federation of Small Businesses
Owning and running a business can be hugely rewarding. However, it brings with it demands, responsibilities and risks that can bring personal pressures that impact a person’s health and wellbeing. Within the UK’s 5.5 million small businesses, we are seeing the health and wellbeing of their workers, and managers, becoming an increasingly important priority.
Boosting the wellbeing of our employees is about much more than just mitigating the costs of absence; it is about promoting a positive, productive, healthy and happy workplace. This, in turn, has a positive impact on the wider economy, government, the NHS and society as a whole.
We are seeing businesses introducing new and different initiatives to foster wellbeing in the workplace – from communal staff lunches and setting up staff breakfast clubs, to offering flexible working arrangements and supporting workers returning to work after a serious illness, to having plant walls in offices and starting up work yoga groups. Holistic approaches tackle physical wellbeing, while also aiming at supporting and improving mental health. Conditions such as anxiety, depression and unmanageable stress are experienced by one in six UK workers each year. The work environment and poor job design can play a big role in the manifestation of these conditions. For businesses, it is important to try and create an open, caring and inclusive environment where stress can be managed, mental health can be talked about and where staff feel comfortable raising issues affecting their work. This doesn’t have to be through a formal process – in many cases, it’s just about being aware.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to wellbeing. It is important to find the ideas that work for your business, yourself and your staff. Our wellbeing campaign hopes to encourage a conversation with small businesses and the self-employed about what can work for them.
What does your firm do to aid wellbeing in the workplace?
Katie Plock, senior HR business partner, Prinovis
“Our infrastructure for health and wellbeing has been established for some time. We provide an onsite health referral service to ensure staff have comprehensive professional support should they require it. We also offer an employee assistance programme, which provides 24/7 access to a health and wellbeing website for advice, which could include referrals to counselling. We train our managers in awareness, so becoming more aware as an organisation, looking out for changes in behaviour and proactively encouraging people to talk.”
Kate Handley, marketing manager, ProCo
“We’re working hard on our internal communications, making sure everybody knows what’s going on in the business. Everyone has a 90-day plan, from the cleaner right up to the managing director, which has a personal goals element, to recognise that you’re at work for a long time and if we can help you grow and do something for yourself then we will. A big part of mental wellbeing is making sure you’ve got people around you for support, we try to do as much as we can to build support networks within the business.”
Gemma Garbutt, HR assistant, MetroMail
“We are working towards a Better Health at Work Award. We have completed and got to continuing excellence level, which is the highest level we can reach. We run different events throughout the year to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing. Every year we hold a wellbeing roadshow and we invite companies that bring information to discuss with our staff. We have boards up throughout the site, with posters up every week on awareness days that are happening, trying to spread the information.”