by Richard Frost, Mindful Employer
People who have a mental health condition often have access to considerable support for themselves, including that from IEP Members. The Mindful Employer initiative has sought to address the question, ‘Who supports their employer?'
Mindful Employer was launched in 2004 by Workways, a Vocational Rehabilitation Service of Devon Partnership NHS Trust. The aim was, and remains, to provide employers with easier access to information and support for employees with mental health conditions. The initiative is UK-wide and been launched independently in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
The increased prevalence of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions, their effect on the workplace, and the need for employers to provide appropriate support for those affected have been increasingly recognised. The last ten years has seen an increase in work stressors such as organisational change and restructuring, job insecurity, work intensity and inter-personal conflict, particularly among public sector workers. 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. Overall, 1 in 6 adults have a mental health condition at any one time – and among adults of working age is as high as 1 in 3. While there is an expectation that employers should offer support, and evidence that more employers are taking positive action, there is also a continued reluctance among employees to disclose mental health conditions to their employer and criticism of managers in their understanding and responses – although the situation is improving as employers become better equipped to provide support. Key issues for employers are the tensions between running the business and supporting staff, and problems in finding the right support to help employees experiencing mental ill health.
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 wellbeing of staff and thus the running of the business. The existence of policies helps but there can still exist a gap between ‘policy and practice’. 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, small and medium-sized employers generally find it easier to achieve aspirations due in part to shorter lines of communication; with larger organisations experiencing more barriers and with some departments demonstrating really good practice but where no one else in the organisation knows about it.
The importance of equipping line managers is particularly crucial. A line manager’s job is to manage, not be a counsellor or a therapist, and many find it difficult to help a member of staff who is experiencing mental health issues – especially when it comes to having THE conversation. There is, after all, no reason at all why a manager should know what to do so the value of mental health awareness training and resources such as the MINDFUL EMPLOYER 'Line Manager’s Resource' can be particularly helpful.
Through the Mindful Employer initiative, businesses and organisations, whatever size or sector, can gain easier access to information, support, mental health awareness workshops and other resources to help them support staff experiencing anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions. Mindful Employer is completely voluntary, it’s not about targets or outcomes (so often the source of stress in themselves!) and encourages and enables employers to share good practice. Since the initiative began, over 1600 employers, have signed the MINDFUL EMPLOYER Charter for Employers who are Positive About Mental Health which is a way of making a public, tangible commitment to the mental wellbeing of all staff. Being a Charter signatory doesn't mean they're 'getting it all right' - but it does indicate a willingness to work towards better practice.