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BT in partnership with the Shaw Trust to help break down the stigma of mental health in the workplac

Added: (Sat Jun 03 2006)


New Research shows that mental health is costing business more than £9 billion a year in lost time

BT in partnership with the Shaw Trust to help break down the stigma of mental health in the workplace

Research released today by the Shaw Trust reveals that Britain’s bosses badly under-estimate the extent to which their employees and fellow managers are suffering from stress, anxiety, depression and other forms of mental ill health. The result is that this is costing business more than £9 billion a year in lost time. As one of the Shaw Trust partners BT recognises that investing in the health and wellbeing of their 102,000 employees worldwide is a sensible business proposition.

The research shows that there is a widespread discrimination and prejudice in the workplace against employees who have taken time off work because of a mental health condition. It was also revealed that most UK businesses don’t have effective policies or provision to manage their employees’ mental health.

The research highlights a lack of understanding about mental health in the workplace and that even in today’s more enlightened society there is still a stigma attached to mental health problems. However, it also found that most company directors recognise the industry needs help to deal with the issues.

The company has been working in this area for several years and has created the BT Stress Management Toolkit. A pro-active toolkit that enables their people to review their own personal stress levels and take action to resolve any issues highlighted. This includes measures to help people understand different forms of mental ill health, self-assessment tools to help them monitor levels of stress, confidential counselling and support and, if required, adjustments to work patterns which include working flexibly.

A breakdown of the Shaw Trust research summary findings:

Workplace attitudes
o Company directors under estimate the likely incidence of mental ill health amongst employees and colleagues, or the implications for their business.
o One in three directors could not mention any specific condition, such as stress, depression or anxiety, when asked what disorders they thought of in connection with mental health in the workplace.
o One in five employers admits to believing that employees who have been off work with stress, depression or some form of mental ill health for more than a few weeks are unlikely ever to recover. One in three thinks they are less reliable.
o A similar number say that negative attitudes from co-workers are a major barrier to employing people with any form of mental health problems.
o Around a half think that organisations take significant risks when employing them, or keeping them, in public or client facing roles.
o There was no significant difference in responses between small businesses and large employers.

Employee attitudes
o Around three in every ten employees (28%-35%) will experience stress, depression or some other form of mental ill health in any year* (Source: MIND, “Stress and Mental Health in the Workplace,” May 2005). Yet only around one in six employers (17%) recognise this national average is likely to apply to their people.
o Only about 3% of all directors think their company has a policy that is effective to deal with stress and mental ill health in the workplace.
o Eight in ten employees say their company has no policy at all.
o Seven in ten employees admit to not knowing enough about their legal position and obligations relating to mental health.

Tim Cooper, managing director of the Shaw Trust says,
“Mental health is probably the last workplace taboo. Society has confronted discrimination on the basis of age, gender, race, sexual orientation and religion, but there is a worrying lack of understanding about mental health and it is not often openly discussed. There is still workplace discrimination towards people who have suffered mental ill health, although it may not be deliberate or conscious. It wastes ability, talent and skills and spoils lives.”

As one of the Shaw Trusts partners BT understands that in order to create a healthier working environment for employees and managers alike, there is a need to tackle the invisible barrier that prevents people talking openly about mental health. It is doing this by:
• Providing the mechanisms and knowledge to enable people to find the courage to talk about mental health issues
• Educating and supporting employees at all levels in the organisation to help them ensure problems are identified early on is a vital part of this process.

Sally Ward, BT People and Policy says,
“When an individual experiences a mental health problem they often need the support of people around them whether its family, friends or work colleagues. The most important thing is that the person can identify coping strategies to help them recover from or deal with their illness. At BT, we have a number of ways of supporting people in this situation, for example, we believe that enabling open and trusting communication with informed colleagues plays a vital part in a person’s recovery from mental illness. That’s why we support this important research and will continue to work closely with the Shaw Trust to create working environments that allow everyone to contribute.”

Employee case study: Janet Sargent, St.Leonards-on-Sea, BT Employee Relations Manager:
Janet has suffered from depression and anorexia for over 20 years which stemmed from childhood family issues. She manages her condition on a day to day basis and has coped well over the past few years, until unfortunately last Christmas she lapsed into a severe depression triggered by a relationship breakdown. Janet was able to take two months off work and says that she is very fortunate to have such a supportive management network. She has worked for BT for over 10 years and believed that at this particular time in her life she felt the need to deal with her personal issues. Janet says that that without this flexibility and support she felt “her life was going down the pan and the last thing she wanted was her job going down the pan too”. Janet enjoys her job and is well respected in her role as Employee Relations Manager. She now works from home several days a week as she can be with her dogs, and is able to work more flexible hours as her sleep patterns are still very erratic. Working from home enables her to work hours that are not the office norm as she can work late at night and have more flexibility during the day if required.

For further information, images or comments from BT, or an interview with Janet Sargent please contact Ailsa Macfarlane on 020 7940 3800/07957 601 701 or at ailsa.macfarlane@incredibullideas.com

To download a copy of the research findings in full, please log onto http://www.shaw-trust.org.uk/mhpress.html
Notes to Editors:

The Shaw Trust partners are: the Employers’ Forum on Disability and Business in the Community and corporate partners, BT, BUPA, GlaxoSmithKline, HSBC, Merryll Lynch and UnumProvident.

The Shaw Trust

Shaw Trust intends to work with partner organisations to develop a range of support services for employers and employees. These solutions are being developed under four main themes:
• To increases awareness of the scale and prevalence of mental ill health and the implications for business
• Assistance in preventing the development of mental ill health and approaches to promoting mental health in the workplace
• Early warning systems that allow potential mental health issues to be identified and managed
• Workplace support services including training and guidance for line managers, specialist occupational health support, vocational rehabilitation support and condition management programmes.

The research was conducted on behalf of The Shaw Trust by Future Foundation, who interviewed 550 employers among small, mid sized and large businesses. The interviews were conducted with chief executives and directors, including a control group of 50 HR directors.


Some of the support measures available within BT:
Monitoring stress
• “Stream” is a tailor made on-line questionnaire that provides a fast and effective way to assess levels of stress and gives advice to help maintain a healthy state of mind. It provides a means of identifying work and home pressures that people are not coping with and recommends control measures that they and their manager can put in place. It uses a simple traffic light system of red, amber and green to report people’s stress levels. Whenever people are not at green, this creates a framework for discussion between them and their line manager to put in place support/changes. This is a completely voluntary process which is used by a significant number of BT people. It also provides BT with anonymous information on the mental wellbeing of the organisation.
Promoting awareness & understanding
• One of the main issues that came up when BT started to ask managers to help support people with a mental health condition was their lack of understanding, not only of the range of conditions but also of the tools and techniques available within BT to help people. This led to the creation of “Stride” which brings together in one place, all the information on the resources and specialist support available to BT people. It also provides links to a number of on-line courses on stress related issues to help all employees understand more about the subject.

Another major component of BT’s approach to increasing awareness of mental illness is “1 in 4”. This booklet was written as a layman’s guide to a range of different mental illnesses from stress and depression to schizophrenia. It gives a short description and a view of each condition and makes suggestions about possible ways forward from both the employees and line manager’s point of view. It provides a clear framework which enables better and well informed discussions by de-stigmatising the subject.
Counselling & support
• Some situations require more expert intervention than line managers are capable of providing. BT’s Employee Assistance Programme provides an impartial, confidential counselling and support service that is available to everyone. This ranges from providing support over the phone, face to face counselling or identifying specialist support to help that person.
Flexible working and role adjustment
• Many thousands of BT people work flexibly. More than 10,000 of them (over 10% of the workforce) work from home. Many thousands more work flexible hours, including annualised hours, time banking etc. This acceptance of flexible working as normal is a powerful tool when anyone needs adjustments to their working pattern.

Submitted by:Ailsa Macfarlane
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