Archive for January, 2019

Seven things I learned from teaching mental health awareness to managers

Any teacher will tell you two things: 1) by far the best way to get to know a subject is to teach it and 2) students have a knack of helping you see your subject from a different perspective. So, here are the top seven things I have learned from a year or so of running mental health awareness courses for managers:

Managers get it

Walking into the first of these courses, I was convinced that getting a group of managers to engage with mental health wasn’t going to be easy. I thought many of them might look on the course as just more HR BS, and that most of them, particularly the men, would probably rather be tasered than talk about things like stress, anxiety and depression. I couldn’t have been more wrong.  In short, these managers showed they got it. They understood that mental health is part of the human condition and that knowing about it and being able to talk about it was only going help them do a better job of managing their staff.

The stats are about right

Having worked in the sector, I have always been just a little wary of the numbers quoted by not-for-profits. So, when I first read the statistic that one in six people in the workplace are experiencing a mental health issue, I was bit sceptical. Was that really true? Were one in six of my colleagues experiencing a problem right now? It didn’t quite stack up with my experience. Now, having run a large number of these courses I can say the figure is about right. On practically every course, two or three out of the dozen attendees have admitted to experiencing some form of mental health issue. 

Suicide isn’t painless

The number the managers coming on these courses found the most shocking wasn’t the one-in-six stat, but a much larger one: 5,821. That’s the number of suicides in the UK in 2017.  When I put it on the screen, there is always a collective intake of breath. And in turn, I was surprised by the number of attendees whose lives have been touched by suicide.  On nearly every course there have been two or three people who have been affected by the loss of a relative, friend or work colleague. Their stories highlighted how much pain and trauma a suicide leaves behind, even in the workplace.  So, the lesson is that we still have a way to go in talking more openly about suicide and being ready to step in to prevent it.

Stories are everything

When my colleagues and I were developing our course we were determined to keep the amount of lecturing and the number of slides to a minimum. We knew that this was a subject where discussion had to be the main route to learning. We certainly got that right. But we underestimated the significance of lived experience. By far the most important element of the course were the “this is how it was for me” moments –people telling their stories of mental health at first hand. Which leads me to number five….

People are more courageous than you think

One of the things that really surprised and impressed me was how willing attendees were to speak about their own experiences of mental health. On nearly every course, two or three people stepped forward and talked openly about their mental health issues – and this in front of a dozen or so of their peers. Their courage has been humbling and uplifting in equal measure. And what it tells me is that this is a mountain we really can move – we can change attitudes and we can normalise being open about mental health in the workplace.

All we have to do is not screw it up!

In these these courses, when I ask the question – Do you agree with this statement: “In general, work is good for your mental health”? – the answer is almost always a resounding “Yes!” And people can very rapidly reel off why it is good for you: it’s the challenge, the sense of purpose, the feeling of achievement, the learning, the belonging, the camaraderie….. It doesn’t take them long to fill a flip chart. So, good mental health at work, is to a large part, about not screwing it up.

Bowls of fruit aren’t enough

I am really impressed how far we have come in the last 10 years. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to believe the extent to which major companies are investing in mental health training. It’s a giant leap in the right direction.  But what I have learned from listening to these managers is that training on its own, and some of the other easy to do wellbeing tactics, like bowls of fruit in the workplace and mindfulness sessions, aren’t quite enough. So, I am looking forward to the next phase of this journey, where we get serious about the harder to do stuff. Like how we structure work, manage relationships and get the level of challenge right, so that everyone has a great day at work, everyday. 

Disability and Work

6 Facts You Might Not Know About Disability and Work. The Papworth Trust have been producing a report, annually, for the past 5 years which contains statistics around disability and work.  There are some interesting stats around disability and work. Occupational therapy large
  1. Over 50% of working age people who are out of work (either unemployed or economically inactive) are disabled people.
  2. Disabled people are more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people. In March 2013, the unemployment rate for disabled people stood at 12%, compared to 7.6% of non-disabled people.
  3. 57% of adults with impairments experience barriers to employment (in the type or amount of paid work they do), compared with 26% of adults without impairments.
  4. The 2 most commonly stated enablers for employment among adults with impairments are flexible hours/days and tax credits.
  5. The 2 most common barriers to work among adults with impairments are a lack of job opportunities (43%) and difficulty with transport (29%).
  6. 1 in 6 people who become disabled while in work lose their job during the first year after becoming disabled.

Flexible working and disability

8 Reasons why Flexible Working for people with disabilities is good for the Employer as well as the Employee.

The Papworth Trust report ‘Disability in the United Kingdom 2013, Fact and Figures’ reports that one of the most commonly stated enablers for employment among adults with impairments is flexible working hours/days.

blog image3Being creative is important when considering flexible hours. Below are some examples which could act as prompts for line managers and employees exploring this issue together

  • Take a flexible approach to start/finish times and/or shift patterns
  • Allow use of paid or unpaid leave for medical appointments
  • Phase the return to work, e.g. offering temporary part-time hours
  • Equal amount of break time, but in shorter, more frequent chunks
  • Allow someone to arrange their annual leave so that is spaced regularly throughout the year
  • Allow the possibility to work from home at times
  • Temporary reallocation of some tasks often improve output where its needed
  1. Making these adjustments could help avoid unplanned absences and enable you to manage and cover planned absences from the work place.
  2. These adjustments could reduce sickness absence time taken by the employee and will improve punctuality issues.
  3. Flexible working patterns allows people to work when they accomplish most, feel freshest, and are more able to work.
  4. These adjustments can be used as part of the employee’s recovery so need not be permanent.
  5. Flexible working times will give the employee an increased feeling of personal control over schedule and work environment and in turn a feeling of being able to manage their condition.
  6. Flexible hours of work are likely to reduce employee burnout due to overload.
  7. A flexible approach could allow the employer to respond to peaks and troughs in work demands as they occur.
  8. Being responsive and flexible improves morale and productivity and will also improve recruitment and retention

Reasonable adjustments for hearing impairment

Reasonable adjustments for people with hearing impairments.

The overall aim of making reasonable adjustments for disabled workers with hearing impairments should be, as far as possible, to remove or reduce any disadvantage faced by a disabled worker.  In cases of ‘reasonable adjustment’ it is acceptable to treat disabled people better or ‘more favourably’ than non-disabled people and sometimes this may be part of the solution.

Many people who are deaf or have a hearing loss will be considered disabled under The Equality Act 2010 in Great Britain and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland so you should be prepared to make some adjustments for them

Here are 3 really straight forward adjustments for you to consider for your workplace

1: Changing a provision.

If the employee with hearing loss is required to sit facing away from their colleagues they will not know when their colleagues are talking to them.

It would therefore be reasonable to allow them to sit where they are able to see their colleagues and therefore feel more included in the team. If it is a requirement for all team members to answer the telephone, invest in some specialist equipment or allow the person with hearing loss to respond to the written correspondence instead.

2: Adjusting physical features.

As well as changing existing provisions, e.g. the layout of an office, you may want to adjust other physical features. For example, hold meetings in locations that have less background noise.

Book a private meeting room rather than holding meetings in crowded communal areas with background noises such as telephones ringing, or conversations taking place.

3:Providing equipment.

Providing equipment such as an induction loop and / or amplified or hearing aid compatible telephones could help employees who are deaf or have a hearing loss perform the same tasks as people without hearing impairment.

For more information and really good advice about hearing loss visit ‘Action on hearing loss’