Why the workplace mental health conversation may be finally starting
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The workplace mental health conversation may finally be starting

Last week was a big one for mental health.

By midnight on Thursday, almost seventy thousand conversations had been logged across England for Time to Talk Day, an initiative to help end the stigma of mental illness. Too often, people are afraid to talk about their experiences for fear of people’s reactions, so the campaign focuses on breaking the silence of sufferers.

Last week also saw an announcement that barbers at five Afro-Caribbean barbershops in London have completed training to identify early signs of mental health issues in their clients. By empowering the barbers to help customers who are struggling, the scheme aims to encourage more black men to seek support for depression and anxiety.

What these two initiatives demonstrate is the capability for ordinary individuals to make significant differences to the mental health outcomes of those within their networks.

The schemes show how ordinary individuals have the potential to positively affect the mental health outcomes of others.

Mental wellbeing within the business community

Mental ill-health is estimated to cost UK employers £25bn each year. Of employees who have taken leave due to workplace stress, it’s estimated that 95% give a different reason for their absence. And almost half (49%) of those asked felt uncomfortable talking to their employer about their mental health.

The above statistics come from a report also published last week. Transforming the role of line managers from Business in the Community (BITC) highlights the evidence for empowering line managers to make greater positive impacts on workplace mental health and, by extension, company productivity.

Line managers are generally the first point of contact for an employee who’s struggling and they play a vital role in workplace mental health interventions. What the report highlights is that managers who lack the knowledge, skills or confidence to intervene when needed cannot support a mentally healthy workforce.

The Bank Workers Charity (BWC) is a member of BITC’s Wellbeing Champions Group, and the report outlines a line manager training initiative that we are piloting in partnership with Mind. The CIPD-monitored programme is teaching managers in four UK banks how to support staff who are struggling with mental health issues.

While the project’s impact on sickness absence will become more apparent over time, even at the interim stage the results have been overwhelmingly positive. Nearly 85% of managers have been able to apply the training in their day-to-day jobs and feel more comfortable speaking to employees about their mental health in the workplace. The programme also saw a 10% increase in employees who said they would feel comfortable speaking to their line manager about mental health, and an increased number felt it was okay to talk more openly about mental wellbeing.

Continuing the conversation on mental health in the workplace

In our current working climate, there is an increasing focus on managers delivering business objectives while supporting the needs of individual team members. These competing pressures mean they’re working harder, with the average manager now working an extra 46 days each year. Which is why it’s vital they receive the best possible support to help them manage these responsibilities effectively.

‘We’re not here to give professional support, we’re just here to let guys know it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just life, everyday stuff.’

The report from BITC is another step – an important one – towards gaining support for wellbeing at the highest levels within the business community. The publication calls for employers to sign up to the Time to Change Pledge, which comes with an organisation-specific action plan, detailing the tangible activities companies will deliver to demonstrate their commitment to mental health. BITC is also encouraging employers to offer Mental Health First Aid training to managers, to help them act confidently in identifying the early signs of problems and directing employees to the right support when they need it.

As one of the barbers, Dave Zewuge, put it: ‘We’re not here to give professional support, we’re just here to let guys know [mental health problems] are nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just life, everyday stuff. And if they need more support, we’ll tell them where they can go.’