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Businesses coached in dealing with mental ill health in the workplace

PUBLISHED: 16:42 09 October 2017 | UPDATED: 16:42 09 October 2017

Michelle Gant, director of The Engaging People Company, and Tom Oxley, director of Bamboo Mental Health, speak to businesses at a training session on mental health in the workplace at Open in Norwich. Picture: Imaginative Media

Michelle Gant, director of The Engaging People Company, and Tom Oxley, director of Bamboo Mental Health, speak to businesses at a training session on mental health in the workplace at Open in Norwich. Picture: Imaginative Media

James Bushell

Mental health is an issue which it is becoming increasingly hard for employers to ignore. Bethany Whymark joined a training session for managers to find out more.

Tom Oxley, director of Bamboo Mental Health, speaks to businesses at a training session on mental health in the workplace at Open in Norwich. Picture: Imaginative Media Tom Oxley, director of Bamboo Mental Health, speaks to businesses at a training session on mental health in the workplace at Open in Norwich. Picture: Imaginative Media

Workplace cultures in sectors from construction to finance must change to more effectively tackle mental health problems.

This was the message from two experts in the field during a session to equip managers and HR staff with the knowledge and skills to help workers with poor mental health.

The session at Open in Norwich also gave attendees the chance to discuss their experiences with mental health – whether in their industry or with their own staff.

Director of Norwich firm Bamboo Mental Health Tom Oxley, who co-organised the session, said growing publicity around mental health still had to be translated into action.

Michelle Gant, director of The Engaging People Company, and Tom Oxley, director of Bamboo Mental Health, speak to businesses at a training session on mental health in the workplace at Open in Norwich. Picture: Imaginative Media Michelle Gant, director of The Engaging People Company, and Tom Oxley, director of Bamboo Mental Health, speak to businesses at a training session on mental health in the workplace at Open in Norwich. Picture: Imaginative Media

“There is a gap between general publicity, and people getting the help they require and conversations being normalised in the workplace,” he said.

The session presented findings from a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Mental Health Foundation, which found work on its own is responsible for 4% of cases of poor mental health, life alone is responsible for 37%, and work and life combined account for 57%.

Mr Oxley said: “People talk about a work-life balance assuming they are opposite forces, one positive and one negative, but they have been integrated much more.”

The CIPD/Mental Health Foundation report also showed 46% of time lost at work can be attributed to poor mental health.

“Managers overestimate staff wellbeing – it is convenient for them to do that because it is tricky to talk about it and even more difficult to deal with the results of talking about it,” said Mr Oxley.

“Particularly in industries where conversations about mental health are not happening with care or emotional intelligence, small things become more serious.”

Co-organiser Michelle Gant, director at The Engaging People Company, said: “Managers can be daunted by having conversations about mental health. It is a sensitive subject which still has stigma attached to it.”

While the treatment of those with mental health issues in the workplace is not clearly covered in the 2010 Equality Act, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) requires that employers understand the demands of their employees’ roles and the support they need to fulfil them.

The HSE is anticipating an 80% rise in employment tribunal cases brought under the Equality Act now fees have been abolished, Mr Oxley said.

Dee Young, HR manager at Broadland District Council, was among the attendees. She said: “As we learn more about mental health the topic grows, and to understand how to better help our staff – bearing in mind some of them deal with customers with mental health issues – there is a whole circle in terms of needs and understanding.”

The line manager’s view

For John Carey, head of development at a marketing agency, a lack of understanding of mental health was hindering his work as a line manager.

Tom Oxley offered him a one-to-one session to help him manage a staff member with a mental health problem.

Mr Carey said: “Previously I had not had any experience of mental health so I found the whole thing quite daunting. I didn’t have the confidence to speak this person about it because I was worried about saying the wrong thing.

“The session with Tom gave me the confidence to go to the person directly to see if they wanted more support, and that has been really useful.

“Our job is quite high-pressure, with quick turnarounds and long hours, and that has an impact on people within the team.

“For me it is first and foremost about identifying when people have issues the putting support in place so they can remain ultimately healthy and happy.”

‘It ended up being normal’

Offshore oil and gas worker James, from Norwich, first become depressed around 10 years ago.

The 32-year-old, whose job has taken him all over the world, said the isolation and stress of working offshore – on placements which could last for months at a time – exacerbated his feelings of uneasiness and anxiety.

“During the first three years of working offshore I found this very hard to deal with,” he said.

“I would often become very anxious and depressed. It went on for so long that it ended up being normal, so I would get home and I would experience the same problem.

“Mental health was never talked about so I kept it silent and tried to deal with it without people who I worked with knowing.”

He added: “I am a freelancer and one thing I have recognised is that when I sign an agreement to work offshore, if I said I had had mental health issues, in some cases that would be enough to stop me getting the job.”

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