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Jane Abraham: Mental Health at Work: An Agenda for Change

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Jane Abraham discusses Acas' new research on mental health, and the Governments new Green Paper 'Improving Lives'

Jane Abraham Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser windowJane Abraham

Jane is a Policy Fellow working within the Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health Work and Health Unit in the employers team. She is a Research Fellow and academic lead on workplace wellbeing with the University of Exeter Medical and Business schools. Jane also runs her own consultancy business.

Jane previously worked as a Regional Coordinator delivering the Black Report in the SW of England.

The publication of Acas' report pdf  The Management of Mental Health at Work [1Mb] is very welcome and timely as the findings resonate with many of the key issues raised in the Governments recently published 'Improving Lives: the work, health and disability green paper.' Specifically regarding the experiences of individuals of working age with mental health conditions, and the capacity of employers to recruit and support them with confidence.

I think that we need to challenge and change the cultures, attitudes and prejudices that exist across the wider society with relation to mental health, and employers have a significant role to play in this. The ambition is to establish a culture where everyone has the same opportunities to secure a good job, and progress so that they can achieve their potential. To do this we need to create 'good' places to work with managers who recognise the value of diverse workforces, and have training in the skills needed to support individuals who experience mental health conditions so that they can remain productive and in work.

The green paper highlights the need to create the right organisational culture whereby individuals feel that they are able to disclose their conditions without fear of discrimination, regardless of whether they have physical or mental health conditions. They also need to feel that they will be supported and signposted towards the most appropriate help available to them.

Line managers have a critical role to play to help achieve this. But the skills required to manage individuals properly are not something that most of us can acquire without specific training and guidance. Building line manager capacity and their emotional intelligence to effectively managing absence, return to work, and to make the appropriate reasonable adjustments, is something that this report identifies as a key factor. The ability to recognise when something is wrong is another key skill that should be developed, as well as how to begin those sometimes difficult conversations about health. We know that early intervention is one of the most effective mechanisms to support someone to remain in work over the longer term.

For me one of the other areas we need to focus on is to identify 'what works' in terms of an evidence base. This will include encouraging more robust evaluation of interventions in order to establish what is effective, and what has an impact. Evaluations will allow us to learn from good practice. We recognise that there will probably be no 'one size fits all' approach that is effective for everyone, but what different interventions will work better in different situations.

There has been a lot of discussion about the business case to convince employers of all sizes to invest in interventions that prevent, or reduce mental ill-health at work. Again there is much more that can be done to reinforce the message that a diverse workforce is beneficial and pays dividends, especially with smaller organisations.

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