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Workforce Health, Business Wealth

Square One Law employment partners, Jean-Pierre van Zyl and Simon Loy, recently held a series of seminars in conjunction with Nicole Addis of Peel Psychological Consultancy, to raise awareness of the widespread effects of mental health on modern society following Theresa May’s commitment to improving the stigma, understanding and treatment of mental health issues that affects one in four people in the workplace.

Head of employment at Square One Law, Jean-Pierre van Zyl explained: “We now live in a world of 24/7 communication and this means we remain accessible to colleagues and clients and are less able to switch off from work. This constant relationship with the working environment adds to our stress levels, leaving us vulnerable to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

“Employee absence due to psychological illnesses such as stress, depression and anxiety reportedly costs UK businesses £32 billion per year. The seminars examined some of the general legal principles and steps employers could take to adjust existing policies and procedures to better take account of mental illness. Nicole Addis explained how to encourage an open dialogue at work about stress and mental health issues, by creating a working alliance between employers and employees where trust mutual respect, authenticity, validation, empathy and collaboration are part of the culture.”

Nicole, said: “Two of the most common syndromes of work related stress are “Burnout” and “Compassion Fatigue”. Burnout is when a person feels unable to meet the organisational demands and symptoms such as negativity, cynicism, headaches, IBS, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, feeling irritable or helpless are often early signs. Burnout is cumulative so it’s important to look for the cause and then work towards prevention.

“Compassion Fatigue is related to the type of work we do. It usually is seen in the types of work relationships that have a demanding “giving role”. The person starts to lose the ability to empathise, has general fatigue; mood swings, tearfulness is anxious and often withdrawn.

“It is important that organisations develop a culture of transparency, awareness and training, and encourage their HR professionals to spot the early signs so swift action can be taken to alleviate the situation, instead of the symptoms becoming more severe.”

Simon Loy, a senior employment partner, who recently joined Square One Law, said: “Most HR procedures in organisations are designed for physical illness rather than mental illness. “The biggest barrier to managing stress and other mental health issues is the reluctance of people to disclose their problems because they worry about the reaction from their employer.

“There is a lot being done nationally to reduce the stigma of mental health issues and a report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers recently showed that companies who have invested time and training into psychological support are seeing reduced absenteeism, increased retention, heightened productivity, increased employee engagement and more workforce flexibility during change.”

Nicole continued: “I use a model called ENGAGE to help HR professionals. It stands for Educate; Normalise; Goals; Attend; Groups; Environment:

  • Education raises self-awareness and self-resilience.
  • Normalising using an open dialogue, creates a ‘no shame, no blame’ culture.
  • Setting achievable goals and regular reviews, empowers individuals.
  • Attending to individual needs with professionally facilitated ‘Reflective Supervision Groups’ provide a time to talk;
  • ‘Psychological First Aiders’ maintain a healthy workplace environment reducing absenteeism and increasing productivity.

Jean-Pierre said: “We discussed the importance of businesses developing a mental health well-being policy and to generally assess whether the application of policies and procedures increase bad stress ultimately leading to a loss of control. Steps should be taken to develop a culture that removes the stigma associated with mental health and to encourage normalisation, early detection and pragmatic positive management. All staff, their managers and supervisors should clearly understand their roles and expectations and understand how stress manifests and how it is recognised and dealt with. HR professionals could be looking to increase training in relation to stress management so employees and their line managers feel able to confidentially raise issues early and candidly.”

Simon added: “A mental health well-being policy also must cross reference other key related policies, such as sickness, discipline, capability, anti-bullying, grievance, flexible working and disability discrimination.

“People management skills are key to driving productivity, so it is crucial to invest in the training and development of your managers so that they learn how to recognise signs of stress in themselves and their colleagues.

“Nicole’s suggestion of providing a positive and supportive first response is such a good idea and a well-trained person who will help maintain an open and meaningful dialogue and strike the right balance so that the employee is productive and feels valued is crucial in helping them not feel they cannot cope or are overloaded.

“Companies who had trained line managers to recognise the importance of making reasonable adjustments for people with mental health issues found this helped reduce absenteeism and supporting a return to work.”

Jean-Pierre concluded: “The discussions at the seminars demonstrated that a more joined up approach is needed. Organisations need to promote a positive approach to mental health and a working alliance between managers and staff so that an open and trusted culture can develop, which in turn will help reduce anxiety and remove the stigma of mental health issues.”

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