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Adrian Wakeling: Mental health at work: A broom cupboard exit

Thursday 01 February 2018

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.


Today is 'time to talk' day, and although it's an initiative I fully support, I haven't given any thought to any talking (or listening) I might try and do. I guess it's good to have a day to jolt us into having conversations, but perhaps it's best if they happen when they feel right.

I think there is a bit of a misconception that you can only join in with these kind of days if you have some lived experience of poor mental health. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those working in mental health, such as social workers or psychiatrists for example, often remark on the fact that if there were separate doors for patients and doctors, they would be almost side by side.

There's the familiar story of the person seeing the counsellor who, when getting up to leave, tries to enter the broom cupboard. A Freudian exit perhaps.  Who knows which doors we will be exiting in future - so much depends on what lies in store, our coping strategies and the support that we get.

Here at Acas we have been talking a lot in recent months about how to best manage mental health at work. This was set out in a recent blog by our Chair, Sir Brendan Barber. If you drew a cloud map of the key words used by Acas advisors, what would feature prominently? Well, things like culture, support, stigma, leadership, empathy, employment law... the list goes on.

One of the key issues for me is that workplaces allow managers and staff to have ring-fenced time to talk about personal issues. People may not want to talk and that's fine but there has to be that possibility that it can happen.

Arranging to meet someone for a coffee can feel a little forced, as if it's an audition for a much more profound and deep conversation. This may work for some, but perhaps an informal chat can be equally as valuable. 

As a homeworker, I may not talk to anyone today, but that is also fine. I am still mulling over a conversation I had yesterday with a colleague. It was about dads. She was worried about hers and I talked about how it had been with mine. As parents get older we are often concerned about their physical health but mental health often casts a shadow too, especially if they are living alone.

These conversations need time to breathe, so after time to talk it is often time to reflect.

Read Acas guidance on mental health at work and research on pdf icon The Management of Mental Health at Work [601kb].

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