As part of the growing coverage in the media there have been some interesting discussions of mental health at work on the radio. In a recent Radio 4 broadcast, ‘Mental Health at the Workplace,’ David Baker asks why having a day off work for flu is seen as more acceptable than having a day off for depression. He interviews a lawyer who argues that while companies are trying to project an image of being supportive of mental health, the reality is different.
Mental Health at Work and the Law
The Equality Act covers any mental impairment which is adverse and long-lasting. However it can be very difficult for people with mental health conditions to bring cases of discrimination against their employers. One of the main issues for employers is that the time off a person suffering a breakdown will need is unpredictable, and could range from a few weeks to several years. The loss to the business could therefore be very substantial. Often in these cases the company will leave the employee to themselves, not giving them the support they might for example give to a cancer patient.
As human resources manager Amy Stein argues, ‘there are lots of ways to fire someone, or lots of ways to not promote someone, that can easily get around what the laws are.’ According to lawyer Karen Jackson, although these days there is much more discussion of mental health at work, we are a very long way from where we need to be in terms of companies supporting their workers. She even has an ongoing case against a mental health charity.
And sadly, as revealed in the 2017 Business in the Community report, ‘Mental Health at Work‘, of all those who disclosed a mental health condition, 15% were either disciplined, demoted or dismissed. Clearly something needs to change.
Training for Mental Health at Work
The programme also considers the lack of training managers receive on how to deal with mental health crises at work. One care worker manager told of how an employee came to her having self-harmed, and she felt ‘all at sea’ – shocked, afraid of what that person might do next, and uncertain about what to say or do. She herself was also suffering from depression, and so she went to her own line manager for advice. He unfortunately told her ‘now you’re a line manager, you can’t be depressed.’
Sadly this lack of understanding and sympathy is all too common when it comes to mental health at work. These are some of the central issues we address in our workshop, Mental Health for Managers.
The programme also consider some positive examples of workplaces dealing well with employees’ mental health, such as the Royal Mail, which gives each employee an advice card and trains all its managers in mental health awareness.
Mental Health in Education
Another mental health at work radio programme well worth listening to is the File on 4 broadcast, ‘Sick of School‘, from 2015. While the crisis of poor mental health in children is receiving lots of attention these days, there is less focus on the significant problems faced by teachers. Issues above all of workload, as well as having to deal with lack of support, poor student behaviour and parent demands, are leading teachers to drop out of the profession in alarming numbers.
Our upcoming free taster workshop, Mental Health for Managers, is aimed not only at line managers in businesses but at school leaders. It will help them create a mentally healthy workplace and build resilience in their staff. This will of course benefit not only the teachers but the children too, as they will enjoy a more stable and supportive classroom.
Our event at the National Railway Museum in York on Feb 8th is for managers and soon after we have an event for school leaders on March 9th at the York Science Park. We only have a few places left for Feb 8th so please contact us soon if you are interested.