Time to Talk
Time to Talk

6 February is the annual Time to Talk day, where the organisation Time to Change encourages mental health to be spoken about openly and transparently, in an attempt to knock down the walls surrounding mental health stigma.

I’d like to focus on it from a workplace stance this year, as I’ve read a fair bit around presenteeism recently, off the back of my ongoing MSc research.

I’d like to highlight what employment does for us first and why we bother with it:

  • Provides an income and a standard of living
  • Adds a layer to our identity and sense of self
  • Can provide avenues for ambition and personal development
  • Offers a social life
  • Gives the week a structure

When you’ve been off ill, what are your employer’s responsibilities towards you, as an employee:

  • They have a duty of care to ensure you are fit for work when you do return, to check in with you and see how you are doing
  • They need to provide working conditions that enable you to work to the best of your ability.
  • Work environments must have been risk assessed where they may impact upon your health and where you have flagged an area of concern about your health that may affect your productivity.

If you’re taken sick leave that was more to do with mental health than physical health then you may be worried about the stigma attached to that if your workplace isn’t open about these issues. You may not be quite ready to return and require a phased return to work but it may be difficult for you to have that conversation with HR or your boss. If you return to work before you are ready and find it overwhelming and triggering then this is presenteeism- working when you are not fit to work, for appearances sake, for the good of the business, for any reason that doesn’t put your own health first; it can be difficult to make yourself a priority.

What can you ask for in a return to work?

  • Flexible hours, for an agreed amount of time or subject to an agreed review date;
  • Support from a peer or your line manager, perhaps in the form of a weekly 1 to 1 to discuss progress and issues;
  • Break times or access to a quiet space if things get too much for you at particular times of the day/ week;
  • A staggered return to work to gauge when a full return can commence.

These are just a few reasonable adjustments that employers, by law, can accommodate in supporting you to a successful return to work if you suffer with long-term mental health concerns.

The impact of poor mental health across the workforce:

  • Between £33 billion and £42 billion is spent annually by UK companies as a result of poor mental health on things such as sick pay, lost working hours and temporary workers.
  • An average of £1,035 per employee per year is spent on mental ill-health, considered to be the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK.

 (Figures quoted from Time to Change, as at 5 February 2020)

The statistics are alarming, so what can employers and employees do to help the conversations about mental health in the workplace and address the issues?

You can encourage your company to make an Employer Pledge with Time to Change, or as an employer/ company, join the movement and make that pledge today. Mental health concerns aren’t going to go away; 2017’s Green Paper thriving-at-work-stevenson-farmer-review proves this is an agenda of concern and one that will be implemented in the coming years. Your responsibility and duty of care is going to become a more pressing and important matter in the next few years.

As my interest in workplace counselling grows, I’m interested in the narrative around the choices that employers are going to make about how they address mental health and how they decide to foster conversations around tackling in-house stereotyping and culture on this matter.

  • What are the attitudes about mental health in your workplace?
  • Can you have honest conversations with staff and each other about the impact mental health can have on a workforce and individuals?
  • Is your HR department approachable on such matters?
  • Are you losing high calibre staff because you don’t have the right processes in place when it comes to supporting mental health?

All of these aspects matter- if you don’t have approachability in your top tiers then staff will continue to suffer in silence, attend work when they aren’t fit to be in work or vote with their feet: 300,000 people leave their role each year due to poor mental health; the implication here is that they were not supported enough, or at all, to be able to stay in that role.

Join the Pledge and make your first steps on this matter positive ones. Time to Change can support you in the transition and supply an action plan to ensure you meet the requirements. Time to talk, time to change.

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