Mental Health Takeover: What more can employers be doing to support workers’ mental health? Quite a lot, actually.

PUBLISHED: 11:30 14 August 2017 | UPDATED: 15:30 14 August 2017

Bamboo Mental Health founder Tom Oxley. Picture: Debby Besford

Bamboo Mental Health founder Tom Oxley. Picture: Debby Besford


Mental health is a top cause of workplace absence so why don’t we treat it like a physical injury?

Tom Oxley, of workplace mental health consultancy Bamboo Mental Health, has his say.

Mental health is frightening, complex and stigmatised in many workplaces. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It takes commitment – rather than cost – to make a lasting, positive difference.

Outside manufacturing, mental health is the top cause of absence in workplaces today.

So why aren’t we tackling it as we are muscular skeletal injury?

There is too little health in health and safety.

Lives are at risk: you are six times more likely to complete suicide on a construction site than die from a fall from height.

In fact 1400 construction workers have completed suicide since 2011 – it’s hidden and it’s horrific. Suicide is the top killer of men aged 20-45.

It’s too awful for words.

And that’s part of the problem. We don’t have the language, the openness or the bravery to speak up sooner. We still say we “admit” having depression. Admit!

That’s why it’s up to workplaces to create a committed culture where people can speak.

Leaders need to get the conversation going, tackle stigma and signpost support for staff.

The vast majority of workplace mental health relates to stress, anxiety, panic and depression: common, moderate and entirely manageable in the workplace, starting with that first conversation.

Managers need to be trained in critical conversations, such as the first day of absence or when they notice signs in their team. Don’t diagnose – talk about work triggers. Create flexible working options rather than removing work altogether.

HR teams need to ensure training, polices and a process in place.

By the time workers are at the GPs they’ll be facing two weeks off with daytime television and a packet of pills for company.

I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

As Michelle Gant from the Engaging People says, “Workplace wellbeing isn’t a one-off initiative but an ongoing commitment that becomes part of organisational culture.

Embed wellbeing through ongoing engagement with targeted activities. Make it part of everyday dialogue.”

She’s right. Everyday care makes such a difference to your brand, people and their families.

This column is dedicated to John, David and Adrian, who felt they had nowhere to turn.

RIP boys.

How can businesses make a difference?

Mr Oxley has reviewed 20 companies, interviewed 100 people and analysed the findings of 15,000 employees. He is founder of Bamboo Workplace Mental Health. Here are his tips to employers.

Listen to people who’ve been unwell. Their stories will tell you all you need to know about how you can improve.

Offer counselling. It costs about £400 for eight counselling sessions. How much does it cost to have a middle manager off for two weeks?

It’s a culture shift – not a campaign. Review your support and find out how to help people speak up and get support. Leaders, managers, HR and your people all have a role to play.

Empower your managers. Give them the resources to support employees, such as information, flexible working options and employee assistance programmes. Help them to have conversations about mental health.

Keep talking. Tell your employees what’s available. Have regular check-ins with individuals. Stay in touch with them if they take time off. Walk in with them on their first day back.

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