LISA GILLESPIE Head of Learning and Development Make UK

Lisa has been in the HR industry for 25 years in a number of roles. She holds qualifi cations in law, a post-graduate diploma in HRM, philosophy, psychology and creative writing. In addition she qualifi ed as a practitioner in PRINCE 2 and neurolinguistic programming. | HR & RECRUITMENT

Brain food: managing mental health in the workplace

MANY studies are fi nding that our attention spans are reducing in the digital age but our ability to multi-task is increasing. The phenomenon is more pronounced in the younger generations, but I would say that in the workplace the impact has the potential to be greater - for both good and bad.

I’ll hold my hands up to occasionally being a bad boss. I’ve had staff offl oading frustrations or concerns across the desk from me whilst I worked on my new skill of giving the impression of eye-contact whilst reading incoming emails in my peripheral vision. I was kidding myself that this was multi-tasking but it’s not, it is called being distracted.

Due to my background I’m particularly interested in mental health and know this is really bad behaviour for a manager, but we forget sometimes with so much going on. Listening and being present makes an enormous diff erence to someone who isn’t in a good place mentally.

Young people are experiencing alarming escalations in mental health issues, according to a study published by the NHS in November 2018. This generation is now entering the workforce and employers will need to fi gure out how to support those at the beginning of their careers rather than wait until problems arise and go down the traditional occupational health route.

Don’t wait for problems - create a positive environment

It is now one year since the government phased out its Fit for Work scheme across England, Wales and Scotland after low referral rates. It simply wasn’t fi t for workers. For employers, however, health and wellbeing are still at the top of the agenda as the health of the workforce

continues to be the biggest headache and cost for many. Besides Brexit, this was one of the most popular requests to be covered in our national seminar series which begins in June, so we have been speaking to some of the largest employers about their strategies to improve the health of their workers.

We represent UK manufacturing which is particularly reliant on young people entering the industry but this has its own unique challenges. It was no surprise therefore to fi nd that for many employers it is now about improving health overall with defi ned well-being strategies rather than reactively dealing with illness and absence.

The old Fit for Work scheme wasn’t the right tool to ameliorate the particular problem of mental health issues in young people. In fact, Professor Sir Cary Cooper, president of the CIPD and professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, said at the time the scheme was being withdrawn that Fit for Work was a “fl awed scheme”, particularly when it came to helping those suff ering with mental ill-health. He said: “Healthcare professionals don’t really know what someone with mental health issues can cope with work-wise, or what the individual would actually consider a stressful job.”

Stress is an odd thing. So many feelings can develop into stress including frustration, tiredness, isolation, feeling overwhelmed by workloads and feeling unable to change things or adapt to change. So what do we do? Well, we need to take a good look at ourselves and remember that an organisation’s culture and management styles can negatively, or indeed positively, aff ect workers’ mental health.

We need to remember what it was like for us and be better bosses. We need to listen and we need to be there for employees who may need more support to achieve their potential or may actually have better ideas about how we work. The younger generation have amazing brains; we need to encourage all that mental energy to focus on progress, not worry.

Sadly, I can no longer describe myself as young: occasionally immature, yes, but youthful? No. I wish employers had embraced wellbeing when I was starting off in my career. I’m not too old, however, to remember what it was like for me starting off in work. I had the benefi t of a weekend job from the age of 11 which helped my confi dence, but I would say I was probably well into my late 20s before I realised it was okay to discuss ideas, say ‘no’ or to disagree with more senior colleagues. Of course, once mastered, I have made it a career out of it!


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