Boys, Girls & taking care of business…

A useful thing to note, is that while I’m writing a blog surrounding my life as ‘The Bipolar Businessman’ the chaps are not the only ones suffering in businesses the world over, with their mental health…

Both males and females are equally at risk of issues surrounding mental health, depression and anxiety and it’s important that we’re aware of anyone within our businesses that may potentially show cause for concern.

I started this blog originally because around only 19% of men who actually have a mental health disorder, come forward to try and seek help or advice, and still fewer of that 19% actually put their name to it, so most remain anonymous. The shocking thing is, that the female statistic is only around 29% which means in both the male and female categories we’re still seeing that around 70-80% of people with a mental health issue will not seek help or maybe don’t even know how to.

A staggering 45% of mental health issues surrounding depression and anxiety are actually caused, or develop, because of people’s working environments and work lifestyles, that means nearly half of the mental health issues in the UK to date could potentially be remedied if companies were to employ proactive steps toward making a change!

The statistic in 2009 was that 1 in 6 workers is experiencing depression, anxiety or stress at a cost of approximately £26 billion to the UK economy, or around £1,035 per employee (a statistic from the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2007). It’s now 1 in 4 workers, so we’re backpedalling…

This means that mental health at work is consistently a pretty significant problem, yet we still, as a nation, take this stiff upper lip/elephant in the room approach, meaning that the costs spiral for individuals and businesses.

My focus as an individual is to create awareness of the issues, share my story (to give an indication of where others might have come from, or what they might be dealing with), and to help companies both large and small to remedy the issues relating to employee wellbeing at work, at least to a degree. Then implement changes to policies that aid their staff development long term.

A study by Mind indicated the following divisions to consider are: What the Government can do, what your average employer should do, what your large scale employer should do and what the Owners/Managers of SME’s should do and in these four groups there are some areas to focus on below:

The Government should:

• explore financial incentives to encourage employers to prioritise mental health awareness and support at work – such as a feedback incentive loop where insurance premiums would be lower if employers had good mental health training for management in place

• keep the current tax-exempt status of employee assistance programmes (EAPs) as welfare counselling to encourage employers to provide EAPs, which act as support and prevention services for mental ill health

• research and evaluate extending tax reliefs or reductions for a range of employer-funded interventions that promote mental wellbeing, and ensure exemptions are applied and publicised consistently by HMRC and other agencies engaging with employers, such as Business Link

• explore how to improve GPs’ use of the fit note – for example, by increasing the amount and quality of compulsory occupational medicine training available at medical school and as ‘refresher’ modules and by working with the Royal College of GPs to raise awareness of best practice

• along with organisations such as Mind etc. consider the specific needs of different sizes and sectors of business and ensure recommendations and resources are tailored to a range of needs

• ensure sustainable provision of occupational health support for small and medium-sized employers (SMEs) at local level – for example, by implementing the NHS Wellbeing Task and Finish Group’s recommendation for NHS occupational health to provide spill-over services for local businesses.

All employers should:

• build relationships with local GPs or charities in order to improve their awareness of workplace environments and appropriate adjustments, by inviting GPs and charities into their business or visiting GP surgeries/charity offices

• make it their policy to talk with staff before they see a GP in order to explore possible workplace adjustments to discuss at their GP appointment

• incorporate safeguarding mental wellbeing into change-management processes and during other challenging periods – for example, through training from the leadership level down, proactively offering additional support to staff, or simply leading by example – as appropriate to the business; safety net support such as occupational health and EAPs should also be built in where possible

• take steps to create an open, supportive workplace environment and facilitate disclosure of mental ill health – for example, by raising awareness of mental health among staff, introducing mental health champions or buddy systems, or ensuring regular ‘temperature checks’ are built into management practice to open up dialogue – as appropriate for their business

• have a communications policy for staff absent through ill health which balances semi-regular contact to provide reassurance while not placing pressure on staff to return to work prematurely; where possible, frequency of contact should be discussed, tailored and agreed with individual employees.

• move from a default performance management approach to a more flexible ‘well conversation’ model, which focuses on employees’ capacity rather than incapacity, to avoid adversarial situations from developing, and provides a case-by-case response to each employee’s strengths and needs

• introduce and promote an EAP – SMEs can explore pooling resources in a local area to share the costs, supported by groups such as local Chambers of Commerce. At a minimum, employers should be aware of and able to signpost employees to appropriate sources of independent and confidential advice, such as the Mind infoline, local Mind or Citizens Advice Bureau.

Large employers should:

• prioritise employee mental health as a boardroom issue – on a par with physical health; this should include regular monitoring of progress or issues by senior leadership, reporting back to the board

• include details of proactive management of psychological health in their public reporting data, in line with Business in the Community’s public reporting guidelines

• ensure supporting mental well-being is embedded in management practice by facilitating regular supervision and appraisal, in line with the best practice outlined in Mind’s employers’ guide (2010)

• introduce, where possible, comprehensive, mandatory mental health awareness and management training for line managers and embed this into learning and development plans, using models like Business in the Community’s ‘Managing emotional well-being – Building team resilience’

• ensure line managers are central to absence management and trained to work in partnership with human resources, occupational health or legal colleagues, to provide a person-centred, rather than procedure-led, risk-based approach

• train line managers in making referrals to their EAP and evaluate their occupational health provision to ensure it plays an integral role in prevention and proactive absence management.

Owner/managers of SMEs should:

• promote positive mental health with staff, keep levels of employee health and well-being under regular review and report this to investors, lenders and/or partners as appropriate

• ensure they demonstrate positive management behaviours, hold regular reviews with staff to explore issues or development needs, and follow the simple steps to good management of mental well-being outlined in the Mind and FSB guide

Now if you’re NOT employing at least one, or some of the elements of the above I hope that this indicator will provide some detail as to the types of things that you should be looking at across your business, regardless of its size and scale.

Some of these elements since the reports from the above were established have been put into play, specifically on a government front and we’re becoming better supported by the current government and the Royal families Foundation, lead by Princes William & Harry to highlight potential stigma and implement change.

A colleague of mind Chris Cummings, through an initiative I’m involved with called Minds@Work, has asked me to speak at an event that he runs called Well-Being at Work which will act as a useful opportunity for you to explore what we’re talking about.

If you’d like to get involved in these sorts of events from a sponsorship perspective, simply attending with your colleagues, or even rolling your sleeves up and helping to set up bits and pieces on the day, then please do contact me at and I can always point you in the right direction, so you can make a difference to someone.

Fundamentally we can all be doing something, it’s just about that one thing you might be able to do to improve a persons day to day lifestyle, especially if we look back at that staggering 45% statistic at the top of this post.

What could you be doing to highlight/remedy the issues within your business?

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