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Protecting workplace mental health and wellbeing: changing the emphasis

Penelope Aspinall, mental health consultant at Jonathan’s Voice, reflects on some of the outcomes of the recent mental health survey of the IP profession undertaken by IP Inclusive and Jonathan’s Voice.

“Instead of always focusing on the employees who are struggling with their mental health at work, how about ‘flipping it’?  Let’s take the emphasis away from individual and even from ‘mental health’ as such and instead look at the idea of putting bold measures in place which if done effectively (and with appropriate recognition of company size, culture etc.) will increase productivity, ensure fewer mistakes are made, reduce staff turnover and improve recruitment. 

Even our small-scale study demonstrated the risks of having unrealistic expectations of staff, who, when they are over-stretched and over-stressed are less productive, less able to concentrate, make more mistakes, are more likely to leave their job, or worse still, the profession altogether. The trend seems to be that, in spite of the serious detrimental impact that this can have on people’s capacity to work effectively (not to mention the personal cost), they are not taking time off to look after their mental health.  And let’s not forget that chronic and enduring stress can also have a serious impact on physical health. Some of the reasons cited for this are the misconception that everyone else is coping, that there is just too much work to do to take time off or they don’t want to let colleagues down. This helps explain the findings in the Stevenson Farmer review (2017)1 and the updated, Deloitte’s Refreshing the case (2019)2 which reveal the huge cost to the UK economy of not taking time off work for mental health reasons. My point is that by putting effective measures (such as those outlined by Andrea Brewster in her blog on the IP Inclusive website3) in place people, on the whole, are able to keep a better work-life balance and not get so intolerably stressed by work that it has an impact on their mental and physical health.  This will then have a beneficial knock-on effect for everybody.  

There will always be the need for companies to provide targeted support for staff experiencing mental health difficulties, including those with pre-existing mental health conditions. However, there are many cases where work-related mental ill health is entirely avoidable. Companies should be looking at the business as well as humane case for ensuring that their organisation protects both psychological as well as physical health and safety and, where there are unavoidable hazards inherent to the job (e.g. deadlines), putting steps in place to help people manage these effectively When we are addressing mental health struggles at work (and elsewhere), let’s tackle the causes rather than the symptoms.”

1Thriving at work: The Stevenson Farmer review of mental health and employers (2017), https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/658145/thriving-at-work-stevenson-farmer-review.pdf

2Mental health and employers; refreshing the case for investment – Deloitte (2019) https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/consultancy/deloitte-uk-mental-health-and-employers.pdf


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