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Sir Brendan Barber: In the real world there are real people

Monday 01 October 2018

Acas Chair, Sir Brendan Barber introduces the new Acas Framework for Positive Mental Health at Work.

Acas Chair Brendan Barber blog Sir Brendan Barber

Sir Brendan Barber is Acas' Chair, joining in January 2014. Previously Sir Brendan was the TUC General Secretary (2003 to 2012) and sat on the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service Council (1995 to 2004). Sir Brendan was knighted in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to employment relations.

"Brendan, in the real world, many employers struggle to get to grips with basic compliance issues, so you haven't got a hope trying to talk to them about stress, anxiety or depression."

This is a line of argument I often get thrown back at me when talking about the importance of positive mental health at work. Which begs the question: have we created a 'real' world of work that can't accommodate real people?

The launch of our new 'Framework for Positive Mental Health at Work' marks a shift in our thinking and I hope in the way many people think about mental health and work.

Try this simple exercise. Go to your preferred search engine and type in 'work makes me feel'. What results do you get? My search came up with 'depressed', 'anxious', 'suicidal', 'ill', 'sick', 'worthless', 'stupid', 'dead inside', 'trapped' and 'bad about myself'.

Of course, people may be less inclined to type in 'I love work because...', but you get the point. Work has a very powerful hold on many of us - we need work, it needs us and many of us spend most of our waking hours involved in it. So it's time to start making more connections between who we are as individuals and what we do in our place of work.

Research from the Mental Health Foundation amplifies the significance of this connection, with 86% of employees with mental health conditions saying that their job and being at work was important to protecting and maintaining their mental health.

In her recent blog for the excellent Mental Health at Work gateway, my colleague Abigail Hirshman described the 'eureka moment' we all had at Acas when we suddenly understood this profound connection between work and health.

Acas Mental Health Framework

Each of the three main players in our framework (employers, managers and individuals) have a key role to play. But it is the overlaps, particularly between employer/manager and manager/individual, where most of the real action takes place.

At different times in our working lives many of us will need a safety net provided by an employer who fully understand that it is their responsibility to...

MHFW Employers

... by managers who can...

MHFW Managers

... and, crucially, it is vital that individuals can ...

MHFW Individuals

At the launch of the 'Mental Health at Work' gateway in Bristol recently HRH Duke of Cambridge highlighted the latest research findings from the mental health charity MIND. These statistics show that only 2% of people would talk to HR about their mental health problems and that 25% are left to try and cope in silence. Prince William said that changing the culture of workplaces relied on two factors. We must:

  1. Stop people feeling as if they have to hide

  2. Make sure anyone with any responsibility for others at work knows what to do.

Real people should not have to hide just because the prevailing culture does not encourage them to speak up or get help. With the new Acas Framework everyone should know what to do and how to help each other. With World Mental Health Day this year focussing on young people's mental health in a changing world, it is vital that we are especially mindful of their concerns. We need to create workplaces where they feel comfortable to be themselves and be heard. We will be looking at the challenges for managing mental health at work for a future workforce in the  on 10 October.

It's time to create a real world fit for real people.

The Acas Framework for Positive Mental Health at Work is supported by two newly developed training modules. Module One gives you the basics on legal compliance and good practice and Module Two helps line managers build the essential skills they need to promote positive mental health.

1 Comment

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  • Posted by Anchor Counselling - Hounslow  |  24 October 2018, 10:44AM

    Anchor Counselling in Hounslow supports the Acas Framework for positive mental health