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Navigating Mental Health in the Work Place

Each year one in six working people will experience some form of mental ill health. Take a look around where you work, the likelihood is that you are working with someone who has had or may currently have a mental ill health in some form.

It is possible, because of the way in which mental health problems develop that neither the person who is suffering or you will recognise the symptoms. People facing mental health challenges have an uncanny way of rising to that challenge and carrying on as if nothing is wrong.

The impact that mental ill health has on individuals, the people around them and the companies where they work has been well documented, but whilst an increasing number of employers are taking actions to support good mental health and wider employee well-being many employers are lagging behind.

We know that if we design jobs, ways of working poorly we can create a negative impact on an employee’s physical health, ergonomic problems from a poorly designed work space for example. What is less well known is that a poorly designed job is just as likely to have a negative impact on the workers mental health as well.

Mental ill health is often caused by some sort of change to an individual’s life, which may have no connection with their work, and whilst they may be competent at managing the symptoms the reality is that poor mental health will impact an employee’s performance and morale as much as any physical ailment. Consequently, it is important that employers know how to deal with mental health on a collective and individual basis.

The new Framework for Positive Mental Health which Acas are launching today provides employers, line managers and individual employees with an easy to understand approach to equalising the ways in which mental and physical ill health are handled at work.

Acas have avoided the temptation to preach to employers or employees about what they should do, instead focusing on getting the discussion moving.

Used as a catalyst for discussion the Framework will help people to overcome one of the main challenges that everyone seems to face when it comes to mental ill health. We just don’t like to talk about it. Talking about physical ill health is something that more and more people are comfortable discussing, even with strangers. This may be because many physical health issues are the result of something that can be identified as separate to us, something alien that we can fight, and others can support us in the battle against that enemy. When it comes to mental ill health the problem is in our minds so in many ways the battle can be perceived to be against ourselves, almost like a civil war.

Employers who are keen to promote discussion and the creation of a work place were mental health issues are respected will find the Acas Framework for Positive Mental Health covers every issue that they need to question themselves on. It is likely that both investigating the issues and finding improvements will be an uncomfortable experience for everyone involved.

Users of the Framework will find themselves more aware of the situation in their organisation but perhaps still in need of guidance on how to address the issues that the Framework has helped them to identify.

Training that raises awareness of the wider issues of mental health amongst all levels of the employee hierarchy will help to stop the embarrassment many people have when discussing mental health.

Helping someone who is experiencing poor mental health can be as straight-forward as asking them if they are alright. But for this to happen early enough employees need to understand the symptoms of poor mental health and how to spot those symptoms in themselves and other people.

More information on training in managing mental health and employee well-being can be found in the Work Place Learning Centre.

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During a career as a human resources and employee development professional that started in 1981 Michael Millward has worked around the world in a wide range of businesses from start-ups to major conglomerates. His industry experience includes, local and national government, manufacturing, financial services, retail, distribution, hi-tech, e-commerce.

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