Open Minds – The power of prevention

06 July 2012 by
Open Minds – The power of prevention

They say prevention is better than cure and that's certainly true for employers dealing with mental health issues in the workplace. In the final part of Caterer and Hotelkeeper's month-long Open Minds campaign, Rosalind Mullen looks at some examples of industry best practice

It's all getting too much for us - the depressing economy, worry about ending up on the redundancy list, trying to juggle family life and still perform perfectly at work. It's no wonder that according to mental health charity Mind, some one in six workers are suffering from anxiety, depression or stress, costing UK businesses around £26b a year.

The charity adds that staff turnover as a result of employees leaving their jobs due to mental health issues costs £2.4b a year.

If they don't leave, however, the impact that someone suffering mental health problems has on the rest of the team is equally detrimental. It's estimated that employees who remain in work without the support they need costs UK businesses up to £15.1b a year. And anecdotal evidence from employers reveals that a colleague suffering from mental health problems can unbalance the team, compromise health and safety and put a strain on those who may have to take on their workload, too.

Not least, employers need to protect themselves legally. The Equality Act, which in 2010 streamlined existing legislation such as the Disability Discrimination Act, rules that someone with a mental health problem could be considered disabled, so employers need to be aware of disability discrimination laws.

It's clear, then, that having a supportive working environment for sufferers of mental health issues can be beneficial to the company as well as the individuals involved and the rest of the team. It's also crucial that you ensure your workplace isn't a trigger for any problems.

So, where should you start? Several organisations provide tools to help companies improve their policies. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, for instance, offers a competency framework to help line managers gain the skills required to reduce and prevent stress at work (see left). Suggestions range from managers being able to clearly communicate employee job objectives to acting as a mediator in conflict situations.

An employee assistance programme (EAP), which offers counselling, is also useful. A poll by service provider First Assist found that more than half of those who had received counselling through an EAP felt that without this support they would have missed work.

Dealing with the significant problem of mental health problems in the workplace can be helped by adopting some of the examples of best practice in the hospitality industry, as outlined here.

Online tools to deal with difficulties in the workplace

Health and Safety Executive

Employee Assistance Programmes

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development - competency framework


Addressing the effects of stress
Bartlett Mitchell
Employs 450 people across more than 70 contracts in the South-east

The issues
According to co-director Wendy Bartlett, staff can suffer from a range of difficulties, including stress at home because private circumstances have changed or debts have piled up. The pressure of the downturn, dealing with new roles and responsibilities at work and adjusting to a new work environment can also lead to problems.

At Bartlett Mitchell there have been instances where an otherwise self-assured person begins to lose confidence or is unable to cope with simple tasks. In the worst cases, they may start to go off the rails.

The solution
As part of its ethos of sustainability, Bartlett Mitchell wanted to address the effects of stress - whether from home or work - on its employees. Having attended stress management courses, Bartlett understood the importance of being able to react quickly to any issues employees might have and to show them that the company is supportive.

In 2011, the company consulted experts and introduced Best Practices: Stress Management, a document that is given to all employees. It includes a list of warning signs and a self-assessment form and underlines the importance of seeking help early on. Advice given to managers to avoid stress include being accountable, creating a master to-do list, and lowering expectations of perfection.

If a team member is having problems, the company offers a plan of action to identify who might be able to help them. This could be outside support or a colleague, depending on the individual and the circumstances.

It also offers all employees access to a stress helpline, which is contracted out through healthcare organisation Health Shield. There is even a healthcare package with discounts on massages and so on to encourage people to look after themselves.

"We promote healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle for our customers and obviously it is equally important for our own team," explains Bartlett.

Rather than approach staff directly, managers use annual appraisals to address any issues that they might have observed. During the year, however, independent audits are conducted to find out what staff feel about working for the company and how it could be improved.

Why it is important
As Bartlett explains: "People are pretty much our only asset, so therefore it is important to look after them - and that means through the bad times as well as the good. Sometimes we have to be brave enough to say ‘actually, there might be a better option for you out there' and then we offer support while they look for it."

The benefits to the company
"It reinforces that we are a caring, sharing company," says Bartlett. "It shows that we are willing to support our staff and that stress or mental health issues are not something to be shoved under the carpet, but something we all need to address. If a staff member is suffering it has a knock-on effect on team morale and everyone feels they are treading on eggshells."

Are mental health issues growing in the workplace?
"There are greater demands nowadays in terms of earnings, doing a job well, being the perfect partner, friend or homemaker," says Bartlett. "It can be the strangest of things that can tip somebody from one mindset to another - whether an incident at home or at work. Often it is an accumulation of things."

Coping in a high pressure environment
Hilton Worldwide
More than 865 hotels worldwide

The issues
Stress-related problems are low at Hilton Worldwide, which vice-president of HR for Europe Ben Bengougam says can be partly attributed to the organisation's positive culture, as well as its strong "prevention rather than cure" structures to support employees in their jobs.

"It's widely known that people working in the hotel industry can experience high-pressured work situations, be it in a busy kitchen cooking for an event of 1,000 guests or a large number of check-ins over a short period of time," says Bengougam.

"These high-pressured environments can result in stressful experiences and we believe through on-the-job training, good managers and a positive work environment people will be excited by hospitality and the diverse range of career opportunities available."

The solution
The company has proactive measures in place to help employees avoid stress:

â- The policy of prevention is reinforced through individual training and development opportunities. For example, the Chef Mentoring Scheme enables experienced chefs to give personalised career advice to mentees, who gain a broader view of working in a kitchen. This also helps the mentees to find solutions to career-based problems while developing their skills and building confidence.
â- Bespoke activity programmes in each hotel, such as health and fitness classes; celebrations and picnics; and healthy lunch days accompanied by a nutritional advice expert. In corporate offices, incentives include meditation workshops, access to gym facilities, blood pressure and sugar level check-ups, as well as nutrition and relaxation classes.

"We support our team members with good management practices, access to learning as well as stress management courses and third-party counselling programmes - which can provide independent support for both personal and professional issues on an individual basis," explains Bengougan.

Why it is important
To nurture good staff. The company aims to position the hospitality industry as a rewarding career choice and its goal is to attract, retain and develop the best people.

To understand employee issues it undertakes a team member opinion survey which allows team members to give their feedback on the company and their overall job satisfaction. This data is then analysed globally, as well as at a hotel and team level - with key findings being acted upon.

The benefits
"By offering positive work environments, we help our team members to grow as well as deliver excellent service," says Bengougan.

The cafe that serves up an opportunity for recovery
The Oasis Kiosk, Borough Gardens, Dorchester

The kiosk was set up in 2007 by charity Rethink Mental Illness to provide opportunities for people in recovery. It helps them to develop skills, regain confidence and experience the structure and routine necessary to help them to get back to work or have a meaningful life. It is run in partnership with Dorchester Town Council.

There are about 14 volunteers in the summer, when the kiosk is open seven days a week, and four in the winter when it is only open at weekends. One member of staff is on duty with two volunteers at each shift.

How it works
The member of staff will have had experience of mental health issues, whether first- or second-hand. The volunteers include those suffering from anxiety, depression, bipolar symptoms and so on. Some are carers for people with mental health issues who just need time out. They are usually referred to the kiosk team by GPs or agencies as part of their individual recovery plan and are given an opportunity to train and meet regularly with Joan Evans, service leader at Dorchester Community Service, for support and supervision in achieving their personal goals.

Volunteers can suffer a relapse while at the kiosk so Evans tries to establish a relationship with each person so she can quickly identify who is having a bad patch. To avoid stress, the workers are given plenty of breaks and can choose their hours between 11am and 4pm.

"It's a positive environment and we need to work with our volunteers on an individual basis to get the best out of them," she says.

The solution
People with mental health issues might have had time out of work, so the focus is on learning to work with other people, dealing with the public, handling money, making and serving drinks, making sandwiches, serving ice-creams, building confidence and gaining a food safety certificate.

Some are pursuing an NVQ in Hospitality and four volunteers are currently involved in a baking project. Many go on to work in hospitality, while others take these transferable skills elsewhere.

Why it is important
"One in four people will develop a mental health issue in their lives and so anyone in your workforce could have or develop issues," says Evans.

The kiosk helps to ease the stigma of mental health by showing that sufferers can make a positive contribution to the community and it is well received by locals.

Are mental health issues growing in the workplace
"Unemployment is a huge problem and changes in welfare and housing add a lot of stress," says Evans. "If there is an increase in the number of people with mental health issues in the workplace it is because people are more sympathetic and understanding, so it is aired more."

Premier Inn (rex)
Premier Inn (rex)
Focus on employee health and wellbeing
Whitbread - Premier Inn
620 hotels

The policies
Whitbread policy manager Nicola Wilson says Whitbread's Team and Community Strategy focuses on, among other things, employee health and wellbeing. Its commitment to this area is underlined by the fact it offers a free and confidential Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to all employees and the family members they live with. This service is provided by an independent specialist organisation called Positive People Company (PPC)

According to Wilson, they tend to manifest themselves in absence levels.

The solution
The EAP service includes access to a website containing fact sheets, coaching, links and advice. It also offers a 24/7 telephone service and face-to-face counselling.

The benefits
Employees are made to feel the company cares for them and their communities and they then strive to be the best they can and work hard for each other to keep customers happy.

are mental health issues growing in the workplace?
"Economical pressures and general worry about the economy with added work pressure and family issues are contributing,-" says Wilson. "Plus, there is less stigma attached to admitting mental health issues."

Preventing the workplace becoming a trigger
The Orchid Group
Employs about 6,500 people across 290 pubs and restaurants

The issues
Head of HR Nina Marshall says the company sees all types of mental health issues, including depression, post-natal depression, bipolar disorder and so on.

Although most problems have developed in people's private lives, Orchid has policies in place to prevent the workplace from becoming a trigger. The nature of pubs, for instance, means employees may have to deal with stressful situations such as drunk and disorderly customers; or, in extreme cases, armed robbery.

Marshall points out that although serious incidents are rare, the company strives hard to prevent staff from developing post-traumatic stress disorder and has so far achieved this.

The solution
A number of systems are in place to either prevent or address any problems among the workforce:
â- All HR team members are given regular training by a psychologist in how to discuss mental health issues that become evident during meetings with staff.
â- A psychologist deals with problems on site and there is also a trained response team that can be on site within hours following a serious incident.
â- Private healthcare is provided for employees at certain levels, paid for by the company.
â- A Healthshield cashplan is available for employees to buy into.
â- There is provision in contracts for paid sick leave.
â- There is a policy to determine the best time for HR and line managers to meet with an employee on long-term sick leave to drive the return to work. If an employee is away from work for more than 12 weeks, statistics show they are less likely to return to work, so meetings usually take place at about 4-8 weeks.
â- An occupational health scheme is used to support GP diagnosis and additional assistance on how to aid return to work .

The benefits to the company
Statistics show that one in four people is likely to develop a mental health problem in any given year, so with such a large number of employees this is an issue that Orchid feels it needs to address. The number one benefit, therefore, is employee engagement and retention.

Marshall explains: "The hospitality industry is seen as a way of life, not just a job. We want our employees to feel part of the Orchid family. The more we can provide at an early stage of someone's health issue, the quicker they return to work."

Are mental health issues growing in the workplace?
"I'm not sure that it is growing, or if in the past issues have always been there but misdiagnosed, or largely ignored," says Marshall. "I feel that due to their own work-time constraints, GPs are more eager to diagnose stress as an illness, rather than exploring the issue to determine the root cause."

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