Mental ill health is the scourge of our modern day society. We’ve all heard the figures of how it affects 1 in 4 adults in the course of their lifetime. It is today the single largest reason for absenteeism from the work place – with stress, anxiety or depression being the most commonly cited reasons. But there can also be no doubt that it is also a significant factor in “presenteeism” – affecting the performance of people in work and estimated to cost the UK economy billions of pounds in lost productivity.
At Remploy we work with thousands of employers of all shapes and sizes and we consistently hear that dealing with mental health issues in the workplace is an increasing priority for most, and a critical issue for many.
The great news for employers is that there is help available. The Access to Work scheme is often referred to as the nation’s best kept secret. What is even more of a secret, though, is that within the Access to Work scheme there is a specialist mental health support service. This service, which is available across England, Scotland and Wales, offers free workplace support from an experienced mental health practitioner for a period of six months. The service has now supported almost 8,000 people in work who are experiencing poor mental health or issues around psychological well being and has achieved a success rate in excess of 90%.
The Access to Work Workplace Mental Health Support Service is very successful because it is delivered by experienced mental health practitioners who have a strong understanding of work and the workplace. One of the key messages we hear from employers is that they don’t just want support – they want high quality support they can trust and rely on.
Today, across the welfare to work contracts that Remploy delivers, well in excess of a third of customers have a mental health issue as their primary disability. This increasing profile of poor mental health in our customer demographics, alongside the feedback we have from our employer partners, has led us to conclude in Remploy that we need to significantly up skill our workforce in understanding mental health and related workplace issues.
Therefore, we took the decision some months ago that every employee in Remploy, regardless of job role or status, would complete Mental Health First Aid training. I’m confident that by the end of 2017 100% of colleagues will have completed the course. It will then become standard for anyone joining our organisation going forward.
For several years now I personally have been dealing with my own issues in understanding and managing my own depression. At a time when my personal life was in chaos, work provided me with structure, routine and a focus. It gave me a sense of purpose. I’m lucky in that I have always been in employment, but have perhaps taken for granted the more intrinsic benefits of what working can do for an individual.
I am keen to ensure that as an employer of 730 people, Remploy should practise what we preach. We decided to invest in Mental Health First Aid training to improve the quality of our service and improve workplace awareness within Remploy. It is a subject I feel passionately about. I don’t want anyone in our organisation to feel that they have to hide anything. I want everyone to come to work and focus on doing a great job – not worry about being “found out”.
But I’m conscious that we need to do more. In Remploy we assume that any flexible working request will be supported unless there is a clear business reason as to why this cannot be accepted. As a result, today, more than 40% of our workforce works flexibly – compressed hours, part-time working, term-time working, 9-day fortnights –all manner of flexible working opportunities.
As a sector we need to increasingly shine a light on mental health as a priority and as a sector we need to lead by example. We need to continually invest in our teams to ensure that we have the skills, knowledge and experience to provide high quality services to customers and employer partners.
For more information on our support services call us on 0300 456 8114 or email email@example.com