Sarah Guthrie, Acas communications manager, speaks to Abigail Hirshman, Acas head of workplace mental health.
Sarah Guthrie: Thanks for joining me to talk about mental health today. And we're specifically focusing on employers. So what can employers be doing as leaders to help their people through these difficult times and to support their wellbeing?
Abigail Hirshman: We would always have said this: there is no doubt that employers who actively show they're serious about the importance of positive mental health at work will have a really significant impact.
Essentially, the more you talk about mental health, the more others will talk about it, and talking about mental health normalises it. And this means that when people feel they're struggling a bit, they're much more likely to reach out for extra support, because they feel it's a safe environment in which to do that – because it's something that gets talked about on a daily basis: how we're feeling, how we're coping, what we're doing to keep ourselves well.
And the earlier that people reach out, the earlier they're able to get support. And we know that there are… The 1 in 4 stat is: 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem. It's a fact, and it's not a blip. So the more conversations we have, the more people will reach out, the earlier we can put in support, and then it reduces the risk of either that person going off, you know, with a sickness absence. Or if they do happen to go off, that they don't go off as long and they stay connected to the workplace because they know those conversations are healthy and natural and normal to have.
And these types of conversations essentially build a culture of openness and respect and trust, which increases rapport. And especially at this time, it's about the things that we can do to increase that sense of connection and belonging – with our social groups and with our workplaces – are going to be absolutely essential.
But I think in terms of leaders and employers particularly, what they also need to be aware of is the parts of the business where the environment itself can impact on mental health.
So we know the stresses and concerns and anxieties people have around the pandemic. But what about in the workplace, where there may be some touch points or some areas where maybe work demands have risen significantly, or where their relationships maybe have broken down? Or maybe people don't feel they have as much control or autonomy as they used to have. So those normal areas of the business that the employer can influence and help keep people… ensure that people's wellbeing is not affected unduly by things that actually are within that employer's ability to control.
Sarah: Okay, so it sounds like it's a useful thing for employers not just to focus on the things outside of their control and managing almost the symptoms of that, but also to think what are the causes or other things within my control that would reduce stress levels or anxiety for my workforce generally.
Abigail: Yeah, absolutely. It's about thinking about the 4 in 4. It's about thinking: everybody in the workplace – is this a healthy environment for people to be in?
[Caption: For more guidance on mental health: www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus-mental-health]