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South Surrey

Mental Health and Employment

12 Aug 2018

IoD, IoD Surrey, Mental Health and Employment

Written by IoD Surrey Ambassador for Mental Health, Clive Stone from Oakleaf Enterprise

The majority of employers in the UK make a considerable number of investments for their business each year, from new vehicles, IT software, marketing campaigns to building renovations. Many of these will be entrusted to others with an expectation that they will be looked after, taken care of and managed appropriately. Similar investments are made in staff which run way beyond the average cost of replacing an employee; estimated by ACAS (2014) to be circa £30,000.  

Over and above a financial obligation, there is of course the emotional commitment we invest in our employees. Given this, it is difficult to see why so many organisations struggle to incorporate and make reasonable adjustments for someone who has a mental health problem, thereby maintaining their employment. Of course, some individuals make the decision that they are not able to work and need to take an undefined period off. However, the question is asked if perhaps given these circumstances could a phased return to work as per the “Fit Note” scheme be appropriate or, should the employee so desire an offer of voluntary work if this were perceived to equal less commitment and pressure, until circumstances change; but employment remaining open.

We know that of all the disability groups mental health still has one of the lowest rates of employment; (House of Commons briefing June 2018– People with Disabilities in Employment). Yet more often than not when someone with a mental health problem returns to work after a prolonged absence, their commitment to work and output is higher than many of their peers. 

The Disability Confident scheme launched in 2016 which replaced the rather outdated 3 Ticks Positive about Disability program, states: “improve how they (employers) attract, recruit and retain disabled workers”. Sadly, as of June 2018 only just over 6,500 employers in the UK had made this commitment. Pitting this number against the 5.7 million businesses (2017) in the U.K. there is a long way to go to achieve a more enlightened business world.

I do of course accept that there has been a shift in awareness and acceptance of mental health problems and acknowledge that when I started working in the field in 1998 I felt unable to tell my employer about my own issues, for fear of being judged. Whilst I accept this was entirely my own perception a wall of silence was the all prevailing mode of the time. Here we are 20 years on and it is very much in the public domain but there is still a lot more work to do with employers.

Going forward into the next 20 years let’s keep pushing at the boundaries, encouraging SME’s to sign up to undertaking training for Mental Health First Aid. Support those charities that make a real difference to 25% of the population who suffer from mental health problems but perhaps more importantly let’s not just look after our investments in inanimate objects but invest heavily in time, commitment and emotion in our biggest assets: those who work for us.

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