Let's talk about mental health
Right now, 1 in 6 workers are dealing with a mental health problem at work that stops them performing at their best. Anxiety, depression, and high levels of stress are becoming more prevalent in the workplace. But there are some things we can do.
Research has shown that having a job has a positive impact on someone’s mental wellbeing, and those out of work are more likely to have poor mental health. More recent research suggests that good quality, engaging work is good for your mental health, but if the work environment becomes toxic or disengaging, this can have the same detrimental impact on someone’s health as not working at all!
Let’s take a look at some of the causes of a poor working environment.
- Unmanageable workloads — Have you been told ‘we’ve raised the bar’ and suddenly you’re expected to do more? On a wider scale, this can be referred to as ‘doing more with less’ or ‘efficiency’, but this could also be the impact of others being on holiday or otherwise absent for work and you’re asked to cope with the extra workload. While this might be reasonable in the short-term, when this becomes a continuous demand, the impact can be devastating.
- Unhealthy or unreasonable hours — You might not be asked to do extra hours, but it’s often implied that you need to do extra hours to meet the demands of your role. Our members have often told us that they’re expected to work unreasonable extra hours, unpaid, because either they’re not entitled to claim overtime, or it’s considered a ‘BAU’ demand.
- Being accountable, but without the control — Are you asked to ‘take the fall’ even though you have no control of what has happened? We’ve seen many examples of this from members, such as working on a project that doesn’t deliver on time and being held accountable for that even though your actual influence on those timescales was either minuscule or non-existent; your role was a supportive one.
- Too many demands, but no support — Often this means you have no say in what you do, and you’re simply expected to cope. Our members tell us frequently that they’ve asked for support and this has either been declined or has simply been ignored.
- Abuse & harassment — This may come from customers, colleagues, or managers, but wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes, it’s unacceptable. While the bank has a ‘robust’ policy for dealing with harassment, it can prove difficult for members to show through evidence what has happened; often it’s verbal and therefore becomes one word against another. When it comes to dealing with third party harassment from customers, contractors or other external parties, our members tell us that they receive this sort of treatment on a regular basis and there is more that needs to be done to proactively protect them.
- Low pay or poor levels of pay — Do you feel rewarded for the work you handle and the efforts you have put in? This may also come with feelings of being unfairly penalised or disadvantaged. The performance management culture and that of performance related pay has become so ingrained that instead of fighting for a decent level of pay for everyone, there’s a tendency to think about one’s own situation.
Even from a brief summary of these issues, it’s clear that the key to tackling these problems requires a seismic shift in workplace culture. Having ‘values and behaviours’ is important in addressing these, but it must be underpinned by actions, from the top down. Furthermore, having strong people managers is required, as opposed to simply having managers who control the flow of work.
Our members often tell us that their manager has said to ‘leave your problems at the door’ which in the majority of cases lacks any kind of empathy or understanding of the situation an individual faces both outside of work, but also within the workplace. It would be nice to imagine everyone could simply dump their problems as they arrive at work — but we’re human beings, and that’s not how we work. This kind of attitude creates a toxic work environment and sits alongside phrases such as ‘chin up’, ‘get a grip’ and ‘man up’ — it forces individuals to accept a given situation and pretend that things are OK, rather than addressing or supporting the actual issues at hand.
What needs to happen from here?
There are a number of actions that need to be taken to create a positive mental health workplace:
- First and foremost, there must be a strategy to support poor mental health as well as promoting a positive health culture. Being aware of mental health issues is not enough, and nor is it acceptable to delegate the responsibility to certain individuals — although both of these approaches have their place in supporting colleagues if things do go wrong. Unions can be one part of the equation as a source of support, but we also need to be able to give members the confidence to challenge their management when issues occur.
- Improving workplace policy & practice — there is no point simply implementing new policy unless there are firm commitments from employers to put this into practice. This means tackling poor management style, ensuring workloads are manageable, and ensuring that those with poor mental health are fully supported.
- Line manager training — this might seem obvious, but managers must be given the right tools to do their job properly and they need to be able to obtain the right support when they need it. This also includes helping managers recognise the signs of poor mental health.
- Performance management culture — it’s time to ditch the performance management culture altogether and to support colleagues in achieving their best. After many years of heated debate with the unions, that Lloyds Banking Group (LBG) had taken this step, but we shouldn’t be blinded by this achievement as changing the system won’t fix the cultural and skills gap on its own.
- Fair pay for your work — A new approach to performance management won’t fix the broken pay systems — the way that people are paid and rewarded for helping the employer prosper must radically change too. People should be fairly paid for the work that they do, and they should be able to share equally when the business makes a profit. Ditching grade related ‘bonuses’ and having a flat-rate approach improves transparency and brings colleagues together rather than pitting them against each other; it creates a culture of shared responsibility. The unions successfully negotiated this type of profit-share approach in TSB back in 2014.
Feeling stressed at work?
As part of Health & Safety legislation, employers have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment for their employees. You may not think it, but this also extends to mitigating against undue risks of stress related injuries at work. Here are some practical steps you can take:
- Ask your manager to conduct a risk assessment of the work that you do and help you to have a reasonable work-life balance.
- Another way of identifying and working with your manager to address unhealthy stress levels is to conduct a stress risk assessment. Most employers have their own versions of these tools, but there is also a toolkit provided by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) which can be used with employers to control stress levels. The HSE also offers a questionnaire that can help indicate sources of stress and track future improvements.
- Meet with your manager to talk through your problems, whether it be your workload and work-life balance, or lack of control in your role and other issues, then ask them to support you. We would always recommend that actions are captured and reviewed so that they don’t get forgotten.
- If you’re experiencing poor mental health at work or outside, talk to someone; don’t forget you’ve got access to your employers Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), and the Bank Workers Charity. If you have access to Bupa or another medical health programme, you can also contact them for assistance.
- Take time to look after your own mental health. We’ve previously written about this and also have a mental health guide available through our website. The Bank Workers Charity have also produced a guide on managing anxiety.
- Talk to your local union rep or union officer for support. Don’t suffer in silence. We can help you understand what your options are and we’ll support you whatever actions you decide to take.
About the Accord ED&I group
The Accord Equality Diversity & Inclusion group aims to ensure every individual has the right to an equal opportunity to maximise their potential, regardless of background, and to be treated with dignity and respect. It’s a place where diversity is celebrated, and all contributions are welcomed and cherished without prejudice or judgement. It’s also a chance to collectively learn from our experiences, allowing us to remove barriers and enrich each other’s lives.
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