Thriving at Work: some initial thoughts.

Thriving-at-WorkOn Thursday last (26th October 2017), the Stevenson/Farmer Review of Mental Health and Employers was published, and can be viewed here. This was in response to a commission from Theresa May back in January and was authored by Paul Farmer (‘Mind’ Chief executive) and Dennis Stevenson (mental health campaigner and a former HBOS chair).

It’s a well-spaced and at times repetitive document (with appendices) clocking in at 84 pages, so not a particularly long read. Its central assertion being that mental health needs to be given as much priority as physical health in the work place, not least because there are huge costs (both financial and human) to not giving it adequate attention. The report makes six over-arching, over-lapping recommendations, referred to as core standards. Employers should:

-Produce, implement and communicate a mental health work plan.
-Develop mental health awareness among employees.
-Encourage open conversations about mental health.
-Provide good working conditions.
-Promote effective people management.
-Routinely monitor employee mental health.

The facts and figures were near the start of the report and thus have been well documented in the national press. In no particular order, here are the parts of the report that stood out for me.

  1. The financial cost is not just from people taking time off or leaving work. There is a cost in lack of productivity when people are suffering at work. If the phrase ‘presenteeism’ has been used before, then I have missed it, but it refers to people coming to work when they aren’t necessarily fit for it. In other words, you can be suffering mentally but still at work, but if you had been suffering physically you probably would have taken time off or been sent home.
  2. In the last two decades, there has been a rise in anxiety and depression, this is particularly evident in younger women and older men.
  3. Health and Safety considerations should be expanded to include mental health, not least because, like physical health, in many cases poor mental health can be improved through simple changes.
  4. “Good work is good for mental health”. The report defines “good work” as being about autonomy, fair play, work/life balance, opportunities for progression and the absence of bullying and harassment. This raises a good question: what values make for “good work” for each of us? In real terms, what does “good work” look like?
  5. I find it strange that the report still uses “work/life balance” as a phrase; since when was work not life? Are we doing ourselves a disservice by separating work from life, instead of recognising that work is life too, and if we don’t like it, we need to find ways to change or improve what we do, rather than seeing “life” as something separate?
  6. The report found that many employers knew that they were missing out on early opportunities to intervene and help an employee, but given the stigma around talking about mental health, and their lack of awareness about how to be supportive, many felt that they didn’t know how to help.
  7. Larger organisations are better at promoting mental health. The challenge will come with Small to Medium Employers (SMEs), with 60% of employees in England. Only 1 in 10 SMEs offer mental health support, compared to 8 in 10 large organisations. The 4.8 million people are self-employed will also be a challenge to reach.
  8. The core standards are good, but they’re vague. Yes, having a mental health plan is good, so is being more aware and talking about mental health, the real question is, how? What do the details of a mental health plan look like. I suppose there are examples out there, presumably from larger organisations, but these plans will look very different for a small to medium sized business. An appendix at the end of the report does make some suggestions about including physical activity, developing staff networks, overlapping with other areas (such as social action) and linking to other plans such as illness policies and staff engagement. But for a plan to really mean anything, and improve mental health at work, I would suggest that more creativity and possibility is needed.

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