In our ‘Safety bytes’ video series, we meet Karl Simons - Director of Health, Safety, Security & Wellbeing at Thames Water. Karl discusses how to tackle mental health in the workplace and what the Thames Water approach has been. He also offers insights into what he believes are the best first steps to take, for any organisation who are looking at their mental health and wellbeing strategy.
Mental health in the workplace
We all have mental health, that's the first point. It is not a negative thing. My mental health at the minute, is very positive. I'm enjoying going to work. I'm enjoying my home life. That's really important.
And then when I look at the work environment, if society is being more open, therefore, society is within work therefore, I've got to make sure my managers and my employees are educated to understand if somebody says, hey, you know, I've got really high stress levels at the minute. Or I've got anxiety at the minute, or I'm feeling really good at the minute, how are they equipped to be able to have that conversation? Really, really important.
We all have mental health, that's the first point. It is not a negative thing.
Organizations that aren't looking at the support framework within their companies for mental health, which can be pretty vast, but you start small and build on it, will be missing a trick. Because they'll be exposing their managers to not know how to deal with when negative mental stresses and issues are raised.
For us, within Thames, one of the first things we did was look at our competency and our understanding. So I have a half-day mental health awareness course called Mind-Fit. And then I have a two-day Mental Health First Aiders course, linked to Mental Health First Aid England, which is a really good, great framework.
And then from there, I'm able to go right. So, we've got people educated. Now they are the go-to people within the organization. We're doing the awareness of everyone, but also, we've got mental health first aiders. At the minute, we're running at 1 in 15, soon to be 1 in 10, so they are built into the teams.
So then I'm saying, right, so I want within the organization, us to balance, it should be no different. We have physical first aiders within the company. We should have mental health first aiders in the company, because the need is there, because people are coming forward with issues. I want to make sure they're equipped to deal with that. And they sign post into the right organizations.
And my clinical team, I have a clinical team within the company. But even if you don't have that, where are you signposting your managers and your people to get support? And does that framework exists behind it?
So if we look at mental health statistics, for every one physical first aid intervention I get within the company, now, I have five times as many mental health first aid interventions, people coming forward and getting support and asking for help within the organization. We're not ignoring any of them. But we've created a culture of care that allows people to come forward and have the conversation. Then we can help.
What advice would you give?
The first steps you can take, first of all, your needs assessment as a company, your risk assessment, so whether it's from a leadership perspective, from a competence perspective, from an engagement perspective, you've got to understand, what does your strategy look like? And it's not about writing a book or ‘this is my big strategy’ - simple things. Your risk assessment for your company-- have I ever had mental health issues raised by an individual before? The answer may be no, but ultimately, are people going off absent at the minute? Do I understand why they're going off absent?
Right now, people report on musculoskeletal disorders. You should be reporting on stress, anxiety, and depression cases. You report on your physical fitness training courses, and what you do to help your people remain mentally, physically fit. You should be doing the same for how you keep your people-- maintaining them mentally fit as well. And that's what we do in Thames already. So the advice is there to be able to help.
As there's a lot of things you can put in place, but my advice would be start very small. Listen to what other people are doing. Even things like the HSE stress Management Standards, they can help. They're all available. But it's understanding, where do I start? And reach out to the professionals that you can see are doing quite a lot, and get that advice as to what you can do within your organization.