To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Clarion was lucky enough to host the Centre for Knowledge Exchange’s Mental Health Awareness seminar.
Mental health awareness in the workplace is an important topic and one that Clarion, as an employer, takes very seriously.
The Centre for Knowledge Exchange is an enterprise hub based at the School of Built Environment and Engineering at Leeds Beckett University, which works to connect the campus with the wider regional construction sector. The issue of mental health within the workplace is of particular concern to those within this sector, as it suffers from an especially high occurrence of mental health issues. Given that men in the building industry are three times more likely to take their own lives than men on average, it was great to see so many representatives from the sector in attendance at the event.
Top tips for taking action to improve mental health in the workplace
Clare King, a Legal Director in our Private Client Team, was the first of the day’s speakers, drawing on her expertise as a Mental Health First Aider to discuss the way Clarion handles mental health issues within the firm. She advised businesses to focus on the three ‘Ts’:
- Talk – make sure you talk to your employees and give them the opportunity to talk as well;
- Train – identify the right people for Mental Health First Aid training who can become Mental Health First Aiders – Clare especially praised the great training that is available from Mental Health First Aid. It’s important to train your employees and wider community on what they need to think about and be aware of; and
- Take action – put in place activities, programmes and events that can help support your mental health initiative within your workplace.
The second speaker of the day was also a representative of Clarion. Joanna Dodd, a Senior Associate in our Employment Team, outlined the legal obligations a company has towards its staff, highlighting the particular issue of when a mental health condition becomes a disability, what a business needs to consider from an employment law point of view and how best to support their team and promote employee well-being.
Some practical tips she provided attendees included:
- Training managers to assess and manage the risks of stress and other mental health conditions. More and more managers are recognising that it is their responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of their team.
- Have external and internal sources of support for employees – and put in place the three ‘Ts’ at your organisation.
- Think ‘outside the box’ about how things could be changed to assist the employee and support their role in the business.
- And take the employee’s views on board.
Joanna also gave a list of things employers shouldn’t do. They shouldn’t apply company procedures too rigidly – that there is a need to adapt if required, to ensure the right support is provided. Employers shouldn’t fail to make reasonable adjustments or document that they were considered, and they shouldn’t fail to consider whether mental health could be linked to performance issues, absences or misconduct. Considering what shouldn’t be done is just as important as considering what needs to be done.
How physical surroundings impact mental health in the workplace
The final speaker was Edward Murphy from Ollio, a building performance consultancy, who discussed how the actual design of buildings can impact employees’ physical and mental health in the workplace. He talked about how we define a healthy workplace – how “our workplaces are so much more than four walls and a roof – they influence every almost every aspect of our working lives.” Where we work – the actual buildings themselves – can, like all spaces, govern who we are, how we socialise and who with. Buildings can make us feel healthier and govern how efficiently we get work done.
Edward explained that the World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health not as merely the absence of ill-health but as a “state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing”. Therefore, it should be interpreted, according to the WHO, that “health and wellbeing” in a building’s design must include interventions which enhance social, psychological and physical wellness.
There is, of course, a benefit to the economy of providing workplaces that are healthy, as poor health costs UK business £29 billion a year, which is approximately £700 per year per employee. This is seen as economically insignificant, but it still has an impact. However, the real driver for creating a healthy workspace is, and continues, to be an ethical one. We should create workspaces that promote health and wellbeing because it is the right thing to do. And there are standards that buildings can comply with to create healthier workplaces and more and more businesses in the UK are looking at how to do this. Buildings can be built to preserve health, but more research is required, according to Edward, to define the health impacts of buildings on people in the UK.
Edward also asked that we consider the culture of an organisation when thinking about improving the health and wellbeing of employees. Millennials are key in pushing for this kind of change. They are a generation that is more politically active, better connected, more fluid in their gender and sexuality, more open about mental health, better at selfcare and are less likely to smoke or drink. They promote a more open and healthier culture, and this is reflected in the surroundings they expect to be created for them. The demand for preventative health in buildings is here – and growing. The construction industry needs to be ready and willing to understand and respond to this demand.
Donna Lee, from the Regional Management Team at the Centre for Knowledge Exchange, says “Constructing Excellence in Yorkshire & Humber were delighted to collaborate with Clarion and to see so many people attending this event. Mental Health in Construction is a very important topic, and given the recent shocking statistics surrounding mental health in our industry, we were very keen to hold this event and to get people talking. We had three fantastic and very knowledgeable speakers and the morning was very informative and thought provoking.”
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