Acas uses cookies to ensure we give you the best experience and to make the site simpler. Find out more about cookies.

Website URL : The Control Id 'trail' could not be resolved to an actual control., Type=iCMRender.Controls.Value, ID=MainBlock (~/subsite/acas/masterpages/MainPageWide.master)

Sir Brendan Barber: Let's all thrive in good work

Thursday 26 October 2017

Acas Chair, Sir Brendan Barber, discusses mental health and the workplace

Acas Chair Brendan Barber blog Sir Brendan Barber

Sir Brendan Barber, Acas Chair (and a member of the 'Leaders Panel' for the government review)

Acas advisers run training events for employers all over the country to help promote what the new government review by Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer calls 'thriving' mental health.

One of the ways our advisers get people to be open about the serious issue of the stigma surrounding mental ill health, is to write the word 'mental' on a flip chart. Managers are invited to write down any association it brings to mind.

The aim of the exercise is to let people throw away their inhibitions. In the eighties and nineties awareness raising (too soon to be dubbed 'political correctness') got us so far with changing the way we treat 'difference' in society. But the challenge is ongoing, and we all need to reflect on the way we think and rid ourselves of our unconscious biases.

The government review is a very welcome step in starting this deep cultural change. This change is not just about the way we think, but the way we work. It is interesting that the first item in the review's vision is that (in ten years' time) "employees in all types of employment will have good work which contributes positively to their mental health, our society and our economy."

For me, thriving mental health is about three levels of working life:

  • Individual experiences must be the touchstone of any plans for improving mental health. People with mental ill health are often best placed to know how they can carry on working effectively or return to work quickly. And it's not just about stigma but, as the recent Mental Health Foundation report showed, self-stigma - the shame of admitting you have a 'mental' problem. We all have a responsibility to turn to our friends and colleagues and offer help
  • As our CEO Anne Sharp said at an Inside Government conference on employee wellbeing only last week, "the line manager relationship is the most important facilitator of workplace wellbeing". It is first line managers who will need training in how to have those open but often tricky conversations about how someone is feeling - and let's not forget the managers themselves. 
  • The third challenge is at the organisational level and rests on behavioural and cultural factors as well as policies and practices. Acas research last year found that there are three key symptoms of what we describe as 'anxious organisations' - workplaces where an employee's mental health is likely to struggle rather than thrive. The most significant of these symptoms is perhaps poorly managed organisational change. As change is a constant for most of us, this is something we need to get better at.

I am talking at an event next month on the impact that new technology and automation is having on the workplace. Acas has also recently published new research on emails and flexible working. It is not surprising that one common theme emerges from all new thinking on the workplace - what impact is work intensification and the blurring of work and home life having on our mental wellbeing? 

I am delighted that Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer have made such a positive contribution to highlight the importance of management practices on individual health outcomes. There are lots of examples of good things happening already, as I found out when I visited Brentwood Community Print, a successful business that also provides a supportive work environment for those in recovery from mental illness.

Acas will be working closely with the government team to make sure the recommendations in their report can be made to work for the benefit of all of us.

Add a Comment