Being a Mindful Employer
By Richard Frost
Helping employers to support staff with psychological and mental health conditions
“The vision for a psychologically healthy and safe workplace is one that actively works to prevent harm to worker psychological health, including in negligent, reckless, or intentional ways, and promotes psychological well-being.” Such is the ambition of a new National Standard of Canada: Psychological health and safety in the workplace1 published in January 2013.
The standard highlights four main areas of consideration to make up the business case for improving workplace psychological health and safety:
- risk mitigation;
- cost effectiveness;
- recruitment and retention; and
- organizational excellence and sustainability.
The authors report that research has shown that those organizations that implement psychologically healthy and safe workplace strategies are, on average, better performers in all key performance categories from health and safety to human resource measures to shareholder returns. They also advocate that psychological health and safety should become an integral part of all operations of the organization involving staff and management at all levels.
The standard is the latest in a number of initiatives in Canada and abroad that have sought to increase understanding of psychological well-being in relation to work and to address the increasing prevalence of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions, which, while not always caused by work, will impact on an individual’s ability to do their job, with all the subsequent effects on a business.
It is therefore a great timing for Mindful Employer to launch in Canada. This UK initiative, aiming to provide employers with easier access to information and support for employees with mental health conditions, will be launched in Canada in the fall of 2013 by Ontario-based Mary Ann Baynton & Associates Consulting and will provide a timely, complementary angle to the standard. Baynton already works with employers, organizations, unions or associations who wish to improve, address or resolve workplace issues related to individual or organizational mental health issues and brings significant expertise.
Mindful Employer has been particularly successful in addressing the needs of businesses in supporting staff experiencing such issues. Like the new Canadian standard, it is voluntary and can be adapted and adopted to suit individual business needs. Mindful Employer was launched in October 2004 by Workways, a Vocational Rehabilitation Service of Devon Partnership NHS Trust, a local arm of the UK National Health Service (NHS). The aim was, and remains, to provide employers with easier access to information and support for employees with mental health conditions. It started as a local initiative in the city of Exeter in Devon and such has been the interest that it has since spread throughout the UK, and has also been launched independently in Australia and New Zealand.
A well-resourced website at mindfulemployer.net provides a range of downloadable information and links to a variety of national, regional and local support services, local employer networks and access to mental health awareness training for managers and staff. A Charter for Employers Who are Positive About Mental Health, which is a set of six aspirations for employers to work towards, recognizes that changing attitudes towards mental health conditions takes time and has taken a deliberate counter-culture stance by using a voluntary approach and going against the trend for target-driven accreditations. Over 1,000 employers of all sectors and sizes have signed the Charter since the initiative began and several hundred other non-signatories are also involved.
A recent master’s degree dissertation in conjunction with Sheffield Hallam University revealed that increasing the availability and provision of both information and training are recurring themes required to meet employers’ needs. In times of economic stringency, training budgets are often the first to suffer and yet equipping managers to be able to provide support is vital for the well-being of staff and thus the running of the business. The evaluation and related literature also demonstrate a need for increased awareness of legal responsibilities. The evaluation uncovered that many organizations have policies about good employment practice and showed that clearer communication and the sharing of good practice are important, for it is by this that others can develop their skills and capacity in supporting both managers and staff. As may be expected, the evaluation also showed that small and medium-sized employers generally find it easier to achieve the aspirations due in part to shorter lines of communication, with larger organizations experiencing more barriers.
Despite no dedicated current funding, Mindful Employer has established its place alongside other, much larger, employer-focused mental health initiatives. Its distinctive approach complements government programmes and proposals and offers a forum to provide employers with easier access to information and local support, and a facility through which businesses and organizations can share good practices.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada website can also take the user through the business case for creating a mentally healthy workplace (mhccleadership.ca/index.html). Included in their website are tools and information that can be used to implement strategies. It provides a business case, strategic direction, and sample policies, as well as functioning as a guide to identifying a champion in the workplace, and to clarifying accountabilities that each department can assume in the implementation of a workplace mental health program.
With the right support and information, people experiencing psychological distress or a mental health condition can and do work. With the right support and information, employers can also deliver their business.
1National Standard of Canada: Psychological health and safety in the workplace — Prevention, promotion, and guidance to staged implementation © 2013 BNQ/CSA Group/MHCC. The Standard is available at no cost through the BNQ (bnq.qc.ca) and CSA (shop.csa.ca) websites
Richard Frost leads the Mindful Employer initiative as part of his work as an Employment Specialist Team Lead at Workways in Exeter, Devon, UK. He can be contacted at Richard.email@example.com. For more information on Mindful Employer, please visit mindfulemployer.net or contact Richard directly. For information about Mindful Employer in Canada, please contact Mary Ann Baynton & Associates Consulting 905.689.7447 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mental Health and the Workplace in the United Kingdom
Improved practice in workplace mental health has been developed considerably over the last 10 years, particularly in the United Kingdom where stress, anxiety and depression cost more working days lost than any other health problem (Health & Safety Executive 2011) and the UK economy in excess of £30bn ($46 billion CAD) per year (Centre for Mental Health 2010). Since the 2008–09 recession, there has been an increase in work stressors such as organizational change and restructuring, job insecurity, work intensity and inter-personal conflict, particularly among public sector workers (Chandola 2010, Sinclair 2011). Employees also experience difficulties outside of the workplace (e.g. bereavement, financial problems, relationship breakdown or other problems) and such non-work related stress, anxiety and depression cause more sickness absence than work-related issues.
Centre for Mental Health (2010) The economic and social costs of mental health problems in 2009/10. London
Chandola, T. (2010). Stress at work. London, The British Academy
Health & Safety Executive (2011). The Health & Safety Executive annual statistics report 2010/11. London
Sinclair, A. (2011). Absence management 2011. [online]. London, Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development