Mental Health First Aid in the workplace

October the 10th marked World Mental Health Day, a time to stop and consider how we can best support those around us who may be struggling. Given the amount of time we collectively spend in the workplace each week, particular thought should be given to the importance of mental health support at work. 

There is already
legislation in place providing the requirement for employers to ensure employees receive immediate attention if they are injured or taken ill at work,
but what about helping those suffering with mental illness? If an employee for example has a panic attack or is expressing suicidal thoughts?

The concept of
‘Mental Health First Aid’ originated in Australia where Professor Anthony Jorm, a researcher from the University of Melbourne was discussing with his wife, Betty Kitchener, a registered nurse, a recent mental health conference that he had attended. Within the conversation it was remarked that ‘What we really need is first aid for depression’. The idea has spread rapidly from there – developing
into an internationally recognised programme comprised of simple steps that can be called upon to help a person in distress.

Dealing with “sporting sickies”!

Merger or Messi? Filing or Fellaini? With the festivities of the world cup to hit us next month perhaps now is as good a time as any to consider whether a workplace policy for major sporting events is necessary and what points should be considered.

Many employers may be concerned in the lead up to such a sporting event that instances of absenteeism will increase as staff take ‘sickies’ to watch the match or recover from the one the night before. Ahead of the 2016 Euros a survey completed by Robert Half found that 73% of UK Human Resources Directors believed employees are likely to skip a day of work following or during a tournament match while 21% of respondents considered it to be ‘very likely’.  There is currently no legal requirement for employers to give employees time off for such events but could a flexible approach yield potential benefits with minimal disruption to the business?

In an audit of 1000 Managers carried out by the Institute of Leadership and Management following the London Olympics in 2012, 48% of those interviewed confirmed increased morale within the workplace. Amongst those interviewed, 41% allowed staff to watch the Olympics at the office. From that number over a third (37%) confirmed an increase in productivity as a result with 67% stating that the staff within the workplace bonded over a shared experience.

The end of “fit to work” notes and referrals

Back in March 2010 I reported about the proposed introduction of fit notes, noting that the Government expected savings to the economy of £240 million over 10 years, by aiding the recovery to work of sick workers. Well, it didn’t turn out that way. By July 2010 there were teething problems. Bogus fit notes were widely available on the internet and offered for £9.99 with an introductory “buy one get one free” offer. A further and entirely predictable problem was that employers receiving the fit notes were unable to decipher GPs’ illegible handwriting and therefore overlooked key elements of the process such as, for example, arranging a structured return to work.

In 2015 the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) reported that the scheme wasn’t working. By September 2014 only 5000 GPs from a pool of 40,854 had received training and 43% of employers said that the fit note had not helped employees to return to work. The EEF’s head of health and safety noted that the quality of advice being given by GPs to help people back to work was deteriorating and that, in order to work, the scheme needed greater resources.

Late in November 2017 it was quietly announced that the scheme is to be scrapped.

Sickness absence at an all time low

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