In the Workplace
What job do you do? It’s a question we commonly face, isn’t it? At those large social gatherings where there are lots of people who don’t know each other, it’s one of the staple questions for anyone trying to make the infamous “small talk”. Do we have a family, what do we do for a living, perhaps what kinds of interests we have. But…what about how our job is? We get asked sometimes whether we enjoy it but…what if the workplace sucks? Do we answer that one honestly? Perhaps not.
What kind of workplace do you work in, then? Does it have a good environment? Hopefully you enjoy the job that you do, but sadly there are a lot of us who don’t. For some, turning up to work is a chore, something that they do only to earn their keep. They arrive, do their job, pack up, go home, then repeat the next day. It might not be the fault of the workplace, it might just be them. But nowadays there seems to be an awful lot of workplaces that people say aren’t quite as good as they should be.
So what am I writing about here? Well, unfortunately it’s not to campaign for an overall overhaul of the workplace. That, I’m afraid, is not something that can happen. We can’t magically make everyone like their jobs as there are still jobs out there that no one wants to do. Instead, I’m focusing on one particular aspect of employment. Have you guessed it yet?
Mental Health in the Workplace
At the moment, it seems as though workplaces have a bad reputation as far as mental health is concerned. It’s given an inferior place to physical health and colleagues with mental health issues always seem to feel discriminated against. At least, that’s as far as people’s experiences and the conversations that I’ve had with them seem to go. There just doesn’t seem to be that overall support for mental health.
In October 2017, the Guardian published an article stating that roughly 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year. Paul Farmer, Mind’s chief executive, and former HBOS chair Dennis Stevenson authored the Thriving At Work report, which was published with all the budgetary figures and other important information regarding this claim. They were shocked by the findings, but put part of the problem down to stigma. It’s almost as if mental health is still a dirty little secret that people have to hide. They also believe there is a lack of support and a lack of understanding within some workplaces, along with a lack of quick access into mental health services. Feelings of exclusion or isolation are also common phenomena.
Does this sound about right? Are those words describing how you feel? Perhaps, if you’re an employer reading this, it describes how some of your workforce feels.
But what can we do about it?
A Workplace Workout
Is it time to give your workplace a workout? Stretch those cramped muscles and rejuvenate your workforce and give your employees that sense of value or sense of belonging that they might need. It sounds difficult, particularly with mental health being such a taboo topic no one talks about, but it is possible.
One thing that I would recommend above all others is that you listen to the needs of your employees. Despite this culture where we have to get medical professionals involved and get their stamp of authority on everything, the person actually going through the struggle themselves will be more of an expert. They will know what sorts of things help them, what things don’t, how their individual conditions affect them and so on. If anything, the doctor will be able to give you the technical know-how and the authoritative stamp, but the patient will be better suited to tell you what they think they need. Then, it’s up to you.
What are they asking for? Is it too much to put into place? Perhaps find the compromise. After all, the majority of employees with mental health struggles aren’t expecting you to move mountains for them. They realise that they can’t get everything that they might want, they know there are things that they will have to compromise on.
So what can you do? Realistically, getting occupational health involved is one of the best things you can do. They are the trained professionals equipped to assess the employees and determine the best course of action. Yes, there is a cost involved in bringing them in but surely that cost is less than the cost of your employee going off sick? As for their suggestions or recommendations, again: is it going to cost you more if your employee goes off sick? Have a careful think before you decide they are too much trouble.
Those of you who follow my journey will have seen how my mental health affected my time at work. Looking back, I’m still fairly adamant that I’d still be there if the right things had been put in place. If occupational health had been brought in, if adjustments had been made, I might have been able to cope. Instead, the employer decided that it was better to let me, as a temporary employee, go. Whether that was legal or not, I’m still not certain, but they decided that was their best course of action.
Now take Cheryl as an example. After an extended period of sickness, she’s returned to work – in the same place that I was. In all honesty, it’s been a disaster. She’s been back for four weeks and a lot of things haven’t quite gone according to plan. Occupational health is only just getting involved, she’s not had a return to work, her manager has been so distant he’s almost not there and she’s been exhausted practically every day from the battle she’s having to fight to get in. You can check out her experiences in First Day Fears, Educating Employers, Fumbling Through, Time to Talk and Got to Fight For It to find out more information.
The Short Version
In short, you as an employer need to listen to your employee. Find out what they need and make those reasonable adjustments. It will cost you less in the long run and help them continue to work for you. Get occupational health involved and ensure your front line managers are equipped to deal with mental health issues in colleagues. As mentioned in the report in the Guardian, a lot of people end up losing their job because of a lack of support. And that’s not just a statistic; I am one of those people. So please, employers, support your employees. You could make a difference to them!
Time for that workplace workout. Need more support? There are plenty of resources out there, in the form of individuals and organisations who would be happy to help you, myself being one of them. Go on, give us a chance. Who knows what a difference it could make?
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Disclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified. This blog is based on my personal experiences only. Always seek medical advice in the first instance.