How vigilant is the organisation you work for about addressing levels of mental health/workplace stress among its employees?
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12 August 2016 | FM World team
This month we asked you about mental health in the wake of four organisations – the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), CIBSE Patrons and The Samaritans – are campaigning to address mental health and workplace stress in the building engineering services industry.
It follows a joint BESA/ECA survey suggesting 31 per cent of building engineering services firms find on-site mental health issues “hard to manage”. Four in five of those surveyed also believe workplace mental health issues “will have a serious impact on their businesses over the next five to 10 years”. At the same time, CIPD research data indicates that the number of people saying they have experienced mental health issues while in employment has increased from a quarter to a third over the past five years. Time to ask: are workplace stress and other mental health concerns a “forgotten health and safety” issue?
Vetting should be more rigorous
Suitability of staff is a factor when it comes to mental health in the workplace. The Orlando nightclub shooter had worked as a security guard for G4S and come to the attention of the FBI in 2013, so arguably more rigorous vetting of staff may become necessary. But it is not just at work we need to be concerned about mental health. The longer someone is unemployed, the more likely, I believe, he or she will suffer anxiety and depression.
Rob Farman is principal Abacus FMEC
Let’s make sure we talk about it
Mental health issues are not the forgotten health and safety issue — they are the forgotten issue, full stop. If we put as much effort, time, money and resources into mental health as we do physical health we would all be in such a better place. On the whole the workplace is ill-equipped to deal with mental health issues, hence good communication as critical. And it’s not just communication between staff and management. Colleagues and teams need to have this conversation. People are happy to talk about a visit to the doctor, but few mention their trip to the mental health practitioner.
Nick Brook is head of facilities for Mills & Reeve LLP
Help staff to work better without stress
Within our organisation, mental well-being is very important. We encourage people to do simple things like take their lunch-break and not think that they have to answer emails after work.
My FM work consists of looking after our buildings, making sure they are nice and safe places to go into.
People within my organisation do not realise what the extent of the work that I do is to help contribute to good mental well-being. The work FMs do on the front line may not be visible but it is important for making sure people feel good at work.
For example, we have a big open office area and we have hot desks. When we first set it up a few years ago we thought ‘this is great we can get all of our frontline workers coming in and they can talk about their clients and not worry about confidentiality. It will be a good base and they can come up with new ideas.’ All of these things are what the offices were set up for.
But recently people have been getting stressed in there because noise levels can be up and down and people are working on different projects and there are different sensitivities and different levels of confidentiality. So I have been researching into open office working, asking if it works. I have kind of come to the conclusion it doesn’t.
We have come up with ways to make sure staff can work better and not be stressed.
Some of what I have come up with – and this is early stages – is setting up a room which is a quiet area for staff to use for up to half an hour to either sit and think or sit and read or catch up on emails or make a call.
I will also ‘cubiclise’ some of the areas – not with full-length walls – but to give staff some privacy so they feel they can sit and get on with things without interruption.
Emma Dallimore is facilities manager at Hull and East Yorkshire Mind
Getting a good work / life balance is crucial
Enforcing a good work/life balance is crucial, not just to the mental health of employees, but also the productivity of staff.
As agile working and wifi technology are more widespread, staff may feel more inclined to keep working at all times and in all places. FMs could work more closely with HR teams to introduce some sort of physical cut-off to the working environment, such as this design company in Amsterdam that winches their desks up to the ceiling at 6pm, to stop staff from working late, and allow the space to be used for games, exercise, or activities (tinyurl.com/FMW0816-workinglate). This has the extra incentive from an FM perspective of increased space use.
At Plusnet, we offer an employee assistance helpline and provide games rooms with table tennis, pool tables, arcade games, comfy sofas and large screen TVs for people to enjoy and relax in. But unfortunately we haven’t yet cracked a way of discouraging people from working late…
Dave Bainbridge is Plusnet’s facilities manager
HR must follow through with help and support
At 43, I decided to diet after years of being obese (25st 7lbs). I joined a slimming club and lost a lot of weight, but I kept dieting and developed an eating disorder (ED), I reached 7st 6lbs, which for a man of 5ft 9in is not healthy. One day at work I told colleagues and my boss I was ill and had anorexia. A senior manager called me ‘a nutter’. Then someone complained about my work and HR got involved. I was asked to attend a meeting by the person who called me “a nutter”; it was all very cordial. They promised me help and support, from counselling to time off and reviews. Sadly, none of these things happened and HR seemed to want to go down the disciplinary route. I felt like a leper. The promise of help gives you hope, but then when none comes it fuels the ED as you feel that it is you who’s the problem. HR must understand that EDs take many forms.
Anonymous, formerly worked for the NHS