Alison Gowman, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s City Bridge Trust committee talks about the British stiff upper lip and how to support employees at work
The modern world is fast paced, life can be relentless, and expectations can be high – which can inevitably result in increased stress levels.
In 2016/17, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 40% of all work-related ill health cases and nearly half (49%) of all working days lost due to ill health*. The Health and Safety Executive found that the main work-related factors causing ill mental health were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.
In the same time period, over half a million people (526,000) were reported to be suffering from work-related mental health problems – causing 12.5 million lost working days.
It is clear that more needs to be done in this area, because it has a serious impact on the health of the UK workforce. Reducing the stigma is a very important element of this, as is increasing access to professional support and, in particular, to early intervention.
Keep calm and carry on
The British are famed for their “stiff upper lip” and their ability to “keep calm and carry on”. This means that, when it comes to opening up about our mental health we can sometimes find it difficult, preferring to dismiss concerns or try to make light of them. Tempting as it may be, keeping quiet and ignoring the problem is neither the answer, nor the solution.
The voluntary sector plays an ever-increasing role in helping people with mental health problems, especially, at a time when NHS services are struggling to meet the level of demand.
Supporting wellbeing in the workplace
Over the last 10 years, City Bridge Trust, the City of London Corporation’s charitable funder, has made 210 grants totalling £18.3million to charities supporting people will their mental health and wellbeing, including in the workplace.
Last year, City Bridge Trust awarded a grant of £1.25million to help young Londoners with mental health problems into - and while they are in – employment. Part of City Bridge Trust’s Bridge to Work programme for young disabled Londoners, this award to the Centre for Mental Health will offer Individual Placement and Support, a recognised model of good practice which provides individually tailored one-to-one support such as coaching, interview training, and in-work assistance.
Now, around one year in, this initiative is proving successful in offering employers the support, skills and resources that they need to increase opportunities for young people to gain employment, and to stay in it.
The programme has enabled the specialist Individual Placement and Support approach to be expanded into the boroughs of Newham and Bromley. It has already supported 17 people with severe and enduring mental health conditions to secure employment of their choice, and to continue to be supported while in work.
For certain, the voluntary sector’s ability to help and support in this area has improved significantly over the years, which is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
Employer awareness of mental health
Thankfully, due to these types of modern, forward-thinking initiatives and the sterling work of organisations such as the Centre for Mental Health, there is greater awareness among employers about mental ill-health and how to support employees. But, of course, there is still room for improvement.
Work can be stressful and it can be difficult to set aside time to catch your breath and take stock of your well-being.
Luckily, for City workers, there is now a wide range of places where they can go free-of-charge, to improve their well-being and mental health. And increasingly, employers are more aware about how they should support their staff.
For anyone feeling anxious about money issues, relationships, their employment, or any other concerns, the City Advice service is there to listen and offer assistance; and specifically, those experiencing domestic abuse can seek confidential support through the Vulnerable Victims Advocate.
The City of London Corporation runs Business Healthy, which brings together businesses in the City to ignite a positive change in the health and well-being of their workforce.
It also runs Dragon Cafe in the City, which welcomes anyone who is experiencing stress and/or anxiety, or who is simply looking for a break from work or home-life pressures. It is free to visit and offers a wide range of activities, events, and workshops aimed at promoting good mental well-being.
Free help is at hand for City workers and employers who feel that they could benefit from support with emotional and physical issues relating to alcohol, tobacco, or other substances. This service is offered by WDP, the City of London Corporation’s commissioned drug and alcohol service.
Green Ribbon campaign
The Lord Mayor’s Appeal’s Green Ribbon Campaign, which began life in the City, but has now been extended nationwide, is a visual display of support to end the stigma around mental health, particularly, by talking about it in a workplace setting.
All these initiatives have been set up to encourage people to recognise – and not ignore - their problems, and to bring them to the surface and take action to improve their lives.
This work will gather pace as more employers prioritise mental well-being. As organisations’ standards are raised, so are the expectations of clients and talented workers. It is a race to be the best employer - and nobody wants to miss out.
As a country, we are certainly taking huge strides forward in working to ending the stigma and provide the right support through private, public and civil society initiatives. If we want to make better progress and make even greater change, people need to start talking about how they are feeling, because support is at hand.