The benefits of supporting staff
Posted Tuesday 18 May 2010
This is the part of a series to launch our Taking care of business campaign on employment and mental health.
I’ve just had a phone call from a local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) that wants more information about how they can provide a healthy workplace for their workers. In addition to flagging up information about Mind week I’ve pointed them towards the guidance we provide to bureaux called “Volunteers with mental health issues: creating an inclusive environment”.
The guidance was drafted by one of our workers; volunteering at the CAB is part of her care plan. She’s been an absolute star: raising our awareness of mental health problems, helping us improve our policies on supporting our workers who have mental health difficulties, and writing advice articles tailored to readers who have mental health difficulties. I’m sure we’re not alone in having individuals with such skills and experiences within our workforce who are willing to help us to better understand our workers and our customers’ needs, which in turns make us a more effective organisation.
Unfortunately not all employers recognise the benefits of supporting people with mental health problems. With over a quarter of bureaux providing a service for people with mental health difficulties, bureaux often advise people who have issues with their employers because of their mental health.
One London CAB reported a situation where having been off sick due to depression, an employee was given 3 options: return to work, face dismissal or resign. As she felt her employer was not being very supportive, and she was not ready to go back to work, she resigned. Another CAB reported the case of a person who felt ready to return to work and whose doctor said that she was fit to go back to work. However, her boss decided that she was not! Bureaux have even advised on cases where peoples’ job offers have been withdrawn because of their mental health history.
It can be upsetting to read real cases like these. They’re particularly traumatic for the person affected, but the employer loses out too. One CAB client was recently offered over £40,000 by his former employer to settle a claim for mental health discrimination. Then there are the costs of advertising, recruiting, inducting and training a new member of staff, which aren’t cheap. After all that, what has the employer actually achieved? Have they purged their workforce of everyone with a mental health problem? Given 1 in 6 workers in Britain are affected by conditions like anxiety and depression, the chances are that there’ll be other staff in the workforce who are managing their conditions. If only the employer could have supported their other workers to do likewise.
If you don’t think you have workers experiencing mental health problems in your workforce you need to ask yourself why? The reason may be that friends and colleagues don’t feel comfortable acknowledging a mental health problem in their workplace.
Gerard Crofton-Martin lives in Sheffield and is the National Partnership Development Officer for Citizens Advice.
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