I posed the question in 2017 Are you ready for your business to thrive? This was in response to the publication of the Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employers in October 2017.
The report found that rather than thriving, staff were quitting their workplace in droves – unable to flourish in an environment where mental health mostly remains a taboo subject.
Nearly five years on what’s changed?
Well, we have lived through a global pandemic which has impacted mental health dramatically, the ONS reported that by June 2020 incidents of depression had nearly doubled since the start of the pandemic, (from 9.7% to 19.2%), they reached a peak of 21% during 27 January to 7 March 2021 (during the third lockdown). The latest stats show this has reduced slightly to 17%, but we can see it is still much higher than 9.7% from pre-covid.
Inequalities from the latest ONS stats
- 32% of women aged 16 to 29 years were recorded as experiencing moderate to severe depressive symptoms, compared with 20% of men of the same age.
- 36% of adults with disabilities and 28% who are clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) were more likely to experience some form of depression than non-disabled (8%) and non-CEV adults (16%).
- 24% of adults living in the most deprived areas of England experienced some form of depression; this compared with 12% of adults in the least deprived areas of England.
- 74% of adults experiencing some form of depression reported that the coronavirus pandemic was affecting their well-being; this compared with 32% of adults with no or mild depressive symptoms.
What can employers do about this?
Now we are learning to live with covid will these figures go back to pre-pandemic levels? I doubt that in the short term we will see much improvement. We still live in uncertain times, not only the pandemic and Brexit, we now have the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The recommendations in the Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employers still stand. Employers were urged to commit to six core standards around mental health:-
- Create a mental health at work plan
- Build mental health awareness by making information and support accessible
- Encourage open conversations
- Provide good working conditions and ensure employees have a healthy work-life balance
- Promote effective people management, with line managers holding regular conversations about health and wellbeing with their staff
- Routinely monitor employee mental health
Where do we start?
- We need a commitment from senior management. One good thing to come from the pandemic is reduced resistance at a senior level to accepting employee wellbeing and mental health is an issue for employers, not just individuals. However, it’s not about delivering resilience building training and expecting people to get on with it.
- We need to understand the issues in the business. If you are prepared to address the issues that exist in your organisation, no matter what is highlighted, then take the time to identify where the problems exist, and commit to addressing them.
- Armed with this information create your mental health at work plan. Build a strategy to address the issues, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Stevenson / Farmer found the average return per £1 spent was £4.20 (with a range of between 40p and £9), rising to £9.98 per pound spend on management training.
- Implement your plan. Please, please, please, do not publish a wordy document that reads more like some BS Bingo. For any strategy to work it needs a meaningful plan with planned actions, timeframes and accountabilities. Please do not fudge this part.
- Finally we monitor the effectiveness of the interventions and plan further improvements.
Recognise this is an ongoing piece of work.
Local enlightened employers
I’ve been working with Cambridgeshire based employers for the last eight years to address issues of employee wellbeing and to create a culture that supports mental health. This is about wellness, not illness.
As well as my 12-month Management Development Programme, that builds managers’ skills to coach and support their people, helping them bring the best out of others I have recently worked with employers to develop training in the following areas:
- Mental health awareness training for all employees
- Mental health training for managers to build confidence in addressing concerns early
- Training to address the stigma of openly discussing mental health at work, creating cultures where it’s easy to say ‘I’m struggling’ and ensuring managers know how to deal with this supportively, to reduce sickness absence and presenteeism
- Diversity and equality issues within particular departments
- Diversity training across the organisation to improve awareness of the impact we can have on others
- Encourage respectful conversations in science
- Preparing for performance appraisals for managers and individuals
- How to support individuals experiencing a personal crisis while on secondment, miles from home
- How to support individuals who have experienced harassment or bullying
- Sleep hygiene