The opening of a Priory clinic in the Square Mile should be a call to action for employers.
The Priory Group’s move to open a new wellbeing clinic in the City is a strong indication of an increasing problem. Recent ONS statistics show that the number of working days lost to “serious mental health” problems in the UK has doubled from 500,000 in 2009 to 1m in 2013. A further 15.2m working days were lost through “stress, anxiety and depression” that same year. The Priory’s new clinic will aim to tackle this.
Anyone who works in a high pressure job will be well aware that both acute and chronic stress can cause mental health issues. And a workplace with such issues doesn’t make for a productive one. Employees suffering from depression, for example, report nearly six hours a week of lost time.
Increasingly, therefore, employers are responding with various ways of de-stressing. Sessions in mindfulness and in-house masseurs are all designed to help with this. Google even offers its employees free bikes to cycle to work and beat the rush hour commute. But while these are good initiatives, they often miss the main problem: recognition.
Among those suffering from mental health problems themselves, as well as those working closely with them, the failure to even recognise the warning signs or admit the problem can undermine any proactive initiative. The business world is filled with examples of a person’s mental suffering being completely missed, to the detriment of all involved.
Mental health issues should be identified as early as possible, ideally at the pre-employment stage. And this doesn’t mean simply asking whether a person has a pre-existing medical condition which may impact their job. Depression, or any mental health issue, can return at any time, so a sufferer wouldn’t and shouldn’t necessarily feel it may impact their job. There’s subsequently no obligation on them to detail a mental health issue in answer to a question at interview. A lot of care must also be taken to ensure that any pre-employment questioning does not discriminate, and complies with section 60 in the 2010 Equality Act.
Trying to shed light on such a sensitive area, especially at this early stage, is very difficult. But often dancing around the topic can do more harm than good.
DUTY OF CARE
Businesses must always be conscious that they have a duty of care, throughout the course of employment, if mental health issues occur or re-occur. But companies need to go beyond the bare minimum of providing a safe place of work. Office happiness should be one of the top priorities for management.
A study conducted by health insurance company Humana and the University of Michigan found that employees who are happy at work not only perform better, but also cost less. Humana credits good “engagement strategies” with improving everything from sales to talent retention. Tech companies have blazed a trail when it comes to finding the perfect, happy workplace, with many routinely offering employees workshops to boost wellbeing and productivity. Old school City firms could learn a thing or two from them.
GETTING THE BASICS RIGHT
This doesn’t just mean nice, fluffy add-ons, however. It’s crucial to get the basics right. This means clamping down on aggressive behaviour and ensuring employees take their full holiday entitlement. Annual leave isn’t just a way of employers saying “thankyou”, it’s an essential part of health and safety. Managers need to be equipped to handle their staff too.
The Priory’s opening in the City is both recognition and a reminder of the consequences of the pressures that can build up in the workplace. Companies owe it to their staff to acknowledge this too.
Ann Bevitt is a partner at law firm Morrison & Foerster, and head of its London office’s employment and labour group.
Reduce your stress
What is mindfulness? For those wondering where to start with this zeitgeist de-stressing technique, this app seeks to help. It offers guided introductions, a suite of different options, and even includes a store to access meditations from some of the world’s foremost teachers. The app comes with a function that reminds you when to meditate.