Mental Health in the Workplace
With World Mental Health Day taking place on 10th October 2015, there is much coverage of the issue in the news currently. Aside from the headlines around the political argument about the lack of funding available for mental health care provision, there is also the impact that the mental health and wellbeing of employees can have on Organisations to consider.
In their recent Sickness Absence Management Survey, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has reported that 40% of employers have responded an increase in mental health issues affecting their employees at work. The main reasons for this increase were identified as being heavy workloads, management style and difficult relationships with colleagues. Despite similar results over six consecutive years of conducting the survey, the CIPD have also reported that approximately 22% of respondents had stated that they were not taking any action to improve the mental health of employees, such as providing a counselling service or offering flexible working and only 31% reported that they were working towards increasing awareness of mental health issues across the workplace.
There is still an inherent lack of understanding about how people suffering with mental health problems are ‘treated’, in the medical sense of the word. Quite often, GPs and Medical Practitioners when dealing with mental health and wellbeing, will recommend to the patient that they should refrain from ‘sitting around at home’ whilst signed off from work and should engage in various activities that will support their recovery such as walking, visiting places of interest, sporting activity and even holidays.
This has been highlighted this week in another news report found on Walesonline.co.uk; concerning an ambitious Prison Officer who killed herself in 2012 having been unfairly dismissed by the Prison Service. In 2011, Janet Norridge had tested positive for a gene that gave her an 80% chance of developing bowel and other cancers, a test she had taken following the death of a close relative from bowel cancer. Her GP had signed her off work for 3-weeks to allow her to come to terms with that news and to deal with the impact of this on her mental well-being and during that time, she went to watch a live screening of the Wales v. New Zealand world cup semi-final match at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. She was spotted there by a colleague, who reported her to the Prison Authorities and they took disciplinary action against her for misconduct and ultimately dismissed her from the Service.
Following a failed appeal against the dismissal, Janet committed suicide and when her parents discovered an unfinished ET1 form amongst her papers, they completed this on her behalf and took the Prison Service to Tribunal, where the Tribunal Judge ruled in their favour.
Although this ruling of unfair dismissal was not known to Janet at the time of her death, the Coroner acknowledged that she had felt that she had been unfairly dismissed at the time and as a consequence, has stated that he will be writing to the Prison Service with recommendations about how they treat employees going through the disciplinary process.
Sadly, the issue of mental health is still somewhat of a taboo subject and one of the difficulties for employers face in addressing mental health issues remains the inability of many people to talk about their circumstances with their line manager or with HR. For this reason, it is recommended that Organisations provide better training for managers when dealing with mental health issues and that they promote a corporate culture that supports good mental health and wellbeing, to encourage employees to seek assistance at the earliest opportunity.