HR & Management

Mind control: There’s no magic health cure but it helps to keep life and work in balance

8 min read

17 October 2017

Next up in our mind control series is John Dean, CEO of Punter Southall Health and Protection, who suggests our pattern of working hard and recovering over the weekend only boosts ill health.

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, one in three sick notes handed to HR by GPs relate to mental health problems, more specifically anxiety and muscoskeletal diseases.

Not only was there a 14 per cent increase in those pertaining to stress from last year, but the BBC made note that such problems were “being issued with longer time periods”.

Simon Stevens, CEO of NHS England, said: “These figures explain why the NHS is now putting mental health front and centre, in what was recently independently described as ‘the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses’.”

It’s no surprise then that the Royal College of Psychiatrists is urging companies to do more about the issue – and it’s not alone. Joining the rallying call for better staff wellbeing initiatives is John Dean, CEO of Punter Southall Health and Protection.

He talked to Real Business about the wider debate.

What is your opinion on the overall UK working environment and its impact on mental health?

I believe that there has been a huge improvement in recent years on the impact of the working environment on mental health. There is a definite movement towards employers better understanding mental health and overall workplaces are safer and better for peoples’ mental health than they were a decade ago.

The caveat to that is that because technology makes it easier for us to work everywhere it is difficult to switch off, and employers and employees need to learn self-discipline to make sure people have sufficient downtime.

Do companies tend to place more emphasis on mitigating physical work risks?

Whether companies place more emphasis on mitigating physical work risks depends entirely on environment. For example, building and construction firms focus heavily on physical safety whereas professional service firms are much more likely to concentrate on mental health – there is no “one size fits all” approach.

What do you believe are the benefits of investing in employees’ health and wellbeing?

The benefits of investing in employees’ health and wellbeing are well documented. Happier and healthier staff are more engaged, they become better employees and provide a better service to their customers. A reduction in sickness absences also translates into a reduction in cost. Companies who look after their staff also find it easier to attract and retain staff.

In what ways do you boost employee wellbeing?

In order to boost employee wellbeing, organisations need to have a measure of what their employees’ wellbeing is in the first place. Companies need to accurately measure what their wellbeing dynamics are. When they can analyse this data and understand what the issues are, then they can focus on the areas that need to be “boosted”.

These areas can be different in different organisations, some may need to focus on physical health while others need to invest in mental health. Different staff members may be affected, it may be just the senior staff who require more support, or the juniors or it may be a particularly department or team.

If money was no object, what health and wellbeing perks/schemes would you advocate employers have in place?

If money was no object the first thing I would do is to conduct a full employee survey, I’d sit down individually with each staff member to understand what challenges they had in order to fully understand the health dynamics of the workplace.

I’d then be able to research the most appropriate tools to further improve the wellbeing of my employees.

How would you advise SME bosses address staff mental health?

My advice to SME leaders would be to appreciate the importance of good mental and physical wellbeing in the workplace, and to put measures in place to understand the health dynamics of their workforce. It would also be worthwhile to send their managers on awareness courses.

People may not realise the strain they are under, Dean explains on the next page

Do you believe that mental health as a taboo subject persists?

With all the recent press and television coverage on mental health it certainly seems to be less of a taboo than it used to be. Of course there are still some old fashioned managers who deal with mental health in a negative way but there are getting to be less of them and people certainly seem to be less reluctant to talk about the issue.

Is it often the case that people don’t realise what their own mental health situation is?

It’s almost certainly the case that some people don’t realise when they are suffering from poor mental health as pressures can build up slowly. These pressures may not necessarily begin in the workplace but may stem from external worries such as caring for elderly parents or young children, or from suffering a bereavement.

To begin with people may not realise the strain they are under or may think that they can cope or that things will improve but over time that pressure can build up to a breakdown.

What do you think can be done to improve understanding of mental health illnesses?

Better understanding of mental illnesses will come from continual knowledge, training, and support across the press, businesses and mental health charities.

What is the most common misconception?

The most common misconception is that it only affects a minority, in fact it affects a lot of people. It’s unlikely that you won’t have a friend or family member who has suffered from stress, anxiety or some other form of mental illness.

How do you unwind after a tough week?

I don’t have a trick for unwinding after a tough week, I believe you should just not have a tough week. If you spend five days a week stressed out followed by two days recovering in the long term your body will break down. As we get older it takes longer for us to recover. Make sure that you spend your working week managing your work levels so that your weekend can be spent enjoying yourself rather than recovering.

Do you have any rituals to improve your own mental health?

There’s no magic cure for improving wellbeing – the key is just to keep life, family, health and work in balance.