Mental illness is commonplace in marketing, media and public relations. And employers are poorly equipped to provide support according to a recent industry discussion hosted by the CIPR.
Absentmindedness, anger, distress, poor sleep, and simple errors were all cited as symptoms of poor mental health that are often managed as performance issues instead of receiving proper care.
Hidden in plain sight
Mental health in the workplace is an issue that is rarely discussed publicly although the data is in plain view.
“In business, mental health, like disability, is some way behind gender and ethnicity in being tackled,” said employment lawyer Bela Gor.
In 2016 the CIPR’s annual State of the Profession Survey found that 30 per cent of people cited their wellbeing in the workplace as ‘unhappy’ or ‘extremely unhappy’.
Happiness is a relative emotion but it’s a story that is consistent with data published last year by the PRCA. In a poll of members it found that 34 per cent had suffered from poor mental ill health.
A report published by the chief medical officer professor Dame Sally Davies in 2014 revealed that 70 million working days were lost to mental illness in the UK at a cost of £70 to £100 billion to the economy.
Mental health managed via performance appraisal
Speaking at the CIPR event Paul Sutton described how he’d managed depression over the last ten years. He left agency life 12 months ago to set up his own business.
He described how employment in one agency was terminated at 12 months when bosses became aware of his illness. Another agency manager responded by putting Sutton on performance appraisal.
Where organisations do tackle mental health in the workplace it is typically through mindfulness or wellbeing schemes.
Managerial issue: awareness and adjustment
“This is a start but the impact of these schemes on organisational performance is rarely measured. People want really basic things to support positive mental health such as time out, time off, quiet spaces, and openness. They don’t want window dressing,” said Gor.
Rajmeena Aujla, a member of the CIPR’s Diversity and Inclusion Forum, cited a series of practical initiatives whereby employees can better support their staff.
“Employees can provide wellbeing benefits such as exercise, fruit, and flexible working,” said Aujla.
“The biggest impact is training managers to be sensitive to mental illness and provide support through line management and mentoring. Signposting to online support communities can also be a huge help.”
It’s a point reinforced by Gor.
“Managers rarely receive formal training. They need educating so they can introduce mental health policies for the workplace and make reasonable adjustments,” she said.
Mental health is endemic in the workplace. There’s no single solution but education and empathy go a long way to helping tackle the issue.
Simply approaching someone and asking them how they’re doing can be a huge help.
I’ll put the kettle on.
Stephen Waddington is chief engagement officer at Ketchum and visiting professor in practice at Newcastle University. He tweets @wadds