A seminar hosted by IOSH’s Midland Branch East District heard that promoting worker wellbeing, tackling the causes of work-related ill health and supporting employees with mental health problems can all help businesses to create a healthier world of work.
A total of 9.9 million working days were lost across Britain in 2014-15 due to stress, anxiety and depression, with workload pressures and a lack of managerial support among the common causes.
Experts in mental health, business resilience and workplace safety and health shared their thoughts on how employers can reduce this figure and improve overall staff wellbeing.
Prof Derek Mowbray, director of the Management Advisory Service, said managers have the ability to prevent stress, and that safety and health professionals should be there to advise them.
He said: “Their job is to manage people. The problem in the UK is that most managers are project managers and not people managers.
“What you (safety and health professionals) have got to do is focus on the managers and help them to understand how to manage people.”
This message was echoed by Ron Reid, partner at Shoosmiths LLP, who said that ensuring managers can identify stress, and know what to do about it, was “probably the biggest challenge you face in your roles”.
He highlighted that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated 466 RIDDOR ill health incidents in 2014/15, up from 258 in the previous year.
HSE psychologist Peter Kelly said the changing 24/7 nature of the work environment and advancements in technology were contributing factors in the development of work-related illnesses.
He told delegates of the need for “organisational intervention” to make a workforce as a whole more resilient, rather than solely focusing on an individual’s personal resilience.
“What you want to see is organisations manage the risk of work-related stress and see it as part of overall organisational resilience,” he said.
“Top companies look after their people. Look after your people and they will look after you - it’s a simple principle.”
Ways of dealing with work-related mental health issues now and into the future were also explored by Dr Paul Litchfield, chief medical officer at BT Group plc, and Paul Farmer, CEO of mental health charity MIND.
Paul Farmer said that while society as a whole was becoming more aware about mental health as a subject, it remains a “major issue for our generation to address”.
Businesses need to assess whether their organisational structure may be contributing to causing work-related mental health problems, he added.
Around 90 people attended the seminar, which took place at the Dunchurch Park Hotel, in Dunchurch, Warwickshire, on Wednesday 24 February.
The event was the district’s annual memorial seminar dedicated to John Lawley, who devoted over 40 years of his life to IOSH and promoting improved safety for all.
IOSH past president Lisa Fowlie gave the John Lawley Memorial Lecture, in which she emphasised the need for early intervention around work-related illnesses.
District Chair Les Pearce said: “We wanted this event to bring the issue to the fore and show just how investing in health and wellbeing can bring a real benefit to both employees and employers.”
The event was one of the last before the district becomes the new IOSH MidShires Branch in April.