The arresting evidence of mental health at work

A recent news story about mental health in the Scottish Police Force got me thinking about how best to manage this growing problem. Legal obligation aside it is relevant for all of us, and statistically it will touch everybody’s life in some shape or form eventually. Like cancer, superbugs or terrorist attacks, the sad reality is that these tragedies will be the inevitable, reoccurring issues in the future’s news. And it is highly likely that we will all have to deal with things like this at some point in our lives.


The good news is that we can at least do something ‘personally’ here, today about mental health in the workplace.


We’ve got the blues!


Let’s go back to the Scottish Police story for a moment (and I’m certain these stats are reflected in police forces, ambulance services, fire stations and other emergency services throughout the UK). The report said that staff and officers employed by Police Scotland had taken nearly 200,000 sick days over the last three years, purely as a result of psychological problems. Three-quarters of that number were from front-line officers, out on the streets helping to keep people and neighbourhoods safe.


The story went on to make the usual political comment: blaming funding shortages, lack of resource, broken promises and highlighting impending future cuts. Adding to or fuelling those arguments is not my purpose here.


One step at a time…


Clearly, there is a bigger political picture at play, but the reality is that individuals can make a difference in large organisations. Without wanting to sound patronising, I doubt that many of us regularly face the same stresses and pressure as police officers do on our streets. There cannot be many professions where you would expect to receive verbal (or even physical) abuse several times a day and have to make regular (often life-changing) decisions on the spot. It is quite a vocation. But we all have to deal with some sort of pressure!


Whether you are a Director, line manager, supervisor or part-time employee you can make a difference by watching each other’s back. Government legislation and internal HR Policy are there to help ensure that that people in danger of suffering work-induced-stress or who are prone to mental health issues can get support. The best way to make this happen is for individuals to be aware of what ‘should’ be done, and how to help or nip problems in the bud. It is the people on the ground, out there in the front line and in touch with the beating heart of the business who really know what is going on.


Getting involved in the business.


My best results come from those companies where I provide a retained service and get regular involvement in their HR processes and policies, and help manage their application company-wide. It is only when you see under the bonnet in real time that you can identify the tweaks and changes to make the engine perform better. Likewise, I would encourage managers and Directors to get more involved in the shop floor side of the business. It is important to know that the legal, box-ticking has been done (in fact it is critical) but never underestimate the problem-avoiding power of working hands-on.


The argument for Police Scotland is to throw more resource at the problem, and I think there is a case for that. But policy set in ivory towers will never help those on the field of play as much as a coach who strives and sweats it out alongside their team.