Slightly off my normal International/ Expat focus – I’ve spent the past year rediscovering Employment Law by studying at University of East Anglia (UEA).  This is with the intention of taking my coaching and HR experience into the UK workplace now I’ve repatriated.

As part of my studies I have to complete a dissertation.  My choice has been to look at Mental Health in the Workplace from a legalistic viewpoint.  I also wanted to understand what was happening in the workplace presently particularly as there is an increase in personal and business demands due to the economy.  People are worried about their livelihood and have worries at home, and at same time employers are cutting costs and worried about remaining economically viable.  This can mean there is an increasing need for employers to be aware of managing and supporting their employee’s mental health or illness at the very time when employee benefits may be cut and or focus is on profitability.

I produced a simple questionnaire for line managers and HR to gather what they understood mental health, mental illness and well-being to be, did they understand the shift from illness to disability, how did they view their working culture and support for Mental Health and indeed how did they support themselves.   From my reading I could see that there was an huge weight of responsibility from business being put on their knowledge, understanding and indeed empathy for managing an employee with a Mental Health concern.  I wanted to see if this was a demand too far in the current economic climate.

From the survey I’ve drawn some simplistic trends and themes together using respondents phrasing, which may be of interest to others working in Mental Health, Well-being, HR.

Themes and trends appearing in Line Manager and HR responses to Mental Health at Work survey May- June 2012

Training on Mental Health issues and managing Mental Health in workplace


Self-research and reading


Mentoring others

Mindful Employer

Equality training

Mandatory training

Basic training

Training on depression and alcohol addiction

Stress awareness and reducing stress

Signs to watch for in employees

Training for line managers to support staff

Employee wellbeing

NHS own campaign

Want – How to work with someone with a Mental Health illness

Want – More training on the legal implications

Line managers, Management and Organisation’s culture

Mental Health Viewed as a weakness

Clinicians with mental illness may present a safety risk to patients hard to manage/mitigate

Internal Mental Health strategy and campaign in large national employer

Need to learn techniques to prevent where possible mental health employees

Some business attempt to be supportive and succeed

Others fail employee, team and manager and their bottom line

Need supportive environment and workplace strategy

Decision makers believe Mental Health is important but not necessarily translated fully into everyday business environment and action

Budget cut backs remove low level early intervention and supportive measures

Accountability for pressure on employees

Line Managers show stereotypical views rather than view merits of individual case

Business not a place for illness – busy and demanding about making money

Time and resource consuming for little or nil return on investment

Line manager are seen as key to managing situations yet often not experience, knowledgeable, interested in

When senior managers aware or understand issue and impact of MH in workplace organisation culture can benefit

Flexible not staid / fixed attitudes and working practices can help

External agencies –  HR, Occupational Health and GPs

Need competent, professional intervention

Lack of helpful guidance from GPs

Lack of support from Medical Professionals

Some OH will give a professional opinion to employers but generally don’t feel they offer resolution

No one fit policy or procedure due to impact of illness differing case by case

HR support line managers but frustrated when they not follow advice

HR and line managers can successively support but depends on each situation and illness type

On subject of Mental Health

Stigma still attached

Can be “invisible” illness and disability

Breadth of issue

Complexity of managing in work

Variety conditions

Individual’s response

Organisation’s response/culture

Line Managers experience, knowledge and attitude

Number of agencies involved – work, medical, individual, home, specialist support, HR etc

Descriptive language used affects response to issue – use of problem can limit

Wellbeing is viewed as positive and holistic

Mental Health illness is viewed as negative and diagnosed

Difference between Mental Health and Mental Illness is person’s ability to manage their mental health

In an individual’s control

Fear of individual to disclose past or current / fear repercussions at work

Working is good for mental health improvement but work is not necessarily good for mental health

Dealing with Mental Health in the workplace in current economy

Important as legal requirements but other key focus areas at present

Main focus is business survival and budget cuts

Absence and performance management key

Not easy to deliver a solution to business or employees

Not enough knowledge and experience of what constitutes Mental Health Illness or a likely Mental Health Disability

Frustrations of managing MH at work

Legislation and complexity


Team demoralised through long term absent colleague

Not disclosing till too late

Employee expectations

Employee’s not following medical guidance

Unpredictable behaviour

Poor relationships with colleagues cause difficulties

Rewards of managing MH at work


Return to work

Team work and collaboration to support

Finding right support and help at right time

Managing own mental health

Self management

Conscious of own limits

Work/life balance

Perspective – its just a job


Interest (groups) outside of work


Positive self-talk


Switch off and move on



Fresh air





Healthy body, healthy mind


Talking therapy

External supervision


Someone safe to talk to (work or outside)

Work environment


Support of line manager

Work/life balance

Ability to work from home

Excellent peer support

Leaving work on time

Not working shifts

Calm approach to work

Time away from desk in day

Management support from highest levels

Constructive comments

Fun at work

Home life


Time out

Family Love

Support in life