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Adrian Wakeling: Mental health at work: another inconvenient truth?

Monday 16 October 2017

Adrian Wakeling, Senior Policy Analyst at Acas, discusses mental health at work.

Adrian Wakeling Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser windowAdrian Wakeling

Adrian is a Senior Policy Analyst at Acas and is part of a team responsible for informing the future strategic direction of Acas and influencing the wider debate on the value of employment relations.


I recently went to see 'An Inconvenient Sequel', Al Gore's second film about his battle to bring climate change issues to the forefront of political thinking. One of the interesting features of the film was how Gore made the environment a grassroots issue by travelling the world and training local people to become advocates for change.

This 'train the trainers' technique often works best when the people you are working with have a deep passion and understanding for the subject - in this case, many of the volunteers had been directly affected by severe weather conditions, such as flooding and rising sea levels, in different parts of the world.

The same approach clearly works equally well for promoting the value of positive mental health. Acas research on 'pdf icon The Management of Mental Health at Work [601kb]' published last year hit upon a pretty obvious finding: that those affected by mental health conditions are usually the best ones to ask about how it can be better managed. As well as empowering employees, the research found that there is also great value in supporting employer outreach activity, drawing on the people with lived experience to challenge the stigma in other organisations. This continues to be a very effective tool used by Brentwood Community Print to promote awareness and support people in their area.

A recent pdf icon Case study - Promoting positive mental health at work by creating a sense of shared responsibility [95kb] published this week describes how Acas helped Suffolk County Council to create a sense of shared responsibility around promoting positive mental health. They did this by using the same train the trainers approach. The challenge for the Council was to help staff cope with the very common cocktail of outsourced delivery, changing job descriptions and job cuts, combined with increased demand for services.

The Council had already taken good steps to respond to staff needs - signalling their good intentions by signing up to Mindful Employer and taking the 'Time to Talk' pledge. But to get the issue of mental health embedded in the culture of the organisation, they needed initiatives to grow from the bottom up. Acas worked closely with the Council to train 24 staff to become local trainers and champions.

As the case study suggests, although this model is cost effective, trainers do need ongoing support. One form of support is guidance and, fortunately, help is at hand. This week, Acas has published its revised booklet on 'pdf icon Promoting positive mental health in the workplace [554kb]'. It acts as an excellent aide-memoire and covers an employer's legal obligations, how to spot the signs that someone is struggling and how to find practical interventions that work.

Mental health may remain an 'inconvenient truth' for some employers, but many more are taking a proactive approach and acting now. With the government's review of mental health by Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer bubbling away in the background, there has never been a better time to wake up to the issue.

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