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Creating a good mental health management strategy

Date posted
13 May 2024
Type
Opinion
Author
Duncan Spencer CFIOSH
Estimated reading time
2 minute read

Mental health awareness week takes place between 13 and 19 May. Duncan Spencer, our Head of Advice and Practice, explores a strategic approach.

Good mental health is essential to wellbeing. Having a fulfilling job is a fundamental that influences our mental health, bringing a sense of purpose and achievement.

Whether the source of poor mental health is work-related or rooted in personal challenges at home, it affects personal performance at work. Morally, organisations must have sound strategies for addressing poor mental health, regardless of its origin.

So, what are the elements of an effective system for managing mental health in the workplace? At the Manchester Safety, Health and Wellbeing event in January 2024, Dr Ed Corbett from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) talked about three aspects:

  • prevention
  • coping and adaptation
  • integration.

These are useful headers for strategic considerations.

Prevention

This is the most important principle but is arguably the most difficult to achieve. Perhaps that is why reactionary processes like mental health first aiders and employment assistance programmes are a common focus.

Since one person’s stressor can be another’s motivation, it can be difficult to predict an individual’s response to challenging circumstances. Some workers are attracted to work in the cut and thrust of high competition, like retail, while others want a more routine role with no surprises.

Certainly, a strategy must include recruiting people to the right roles with the right coping skills. Anyway, now that mental health at work is accepted as an occupational safety and health issue, the golden principle must be applied: “predict to be preventative”.

A strategy must be predominantly focused on the prevention and control of common stressors rather than recovery post-incident.

Job role
Company

Coping and adaptation

This is a broad consideration. It may include building individual and organisational resilience to change or challenge, perhaps through education. Managers and workers alike need to be able to identify potential triggers for poor mental health and know what to do next.

If we are to educate, then we must learn too. A mental health strategy must include monitoring performance and being able to effectively react to changes. It must include reporting and investigation into incidents, despite the challenge of confidentiality. A learning organisation is better able to adapt, enhance and improve.

Integration

Thirdly, the HSE talks about integration. An organisation whose approach regards safety and health to be a secondary issue to meeting operational challenge is unlikely to achieve integration.

Operational decision-making processes should routinely consider any potential impact on individuals and put in place preventative controls. The process needs to be fluid and highly adaptive. Integration also means aligning all policies in this space: health and safety, dignity at work, equality diversity and inclusion, bullying and harassment, finance and so on. It must address all workers whether full-time, part-time, or temporary.

More mature organisations will even extend this consideration to contractors and organisations in their supply chain. After all competitive market forces should not be allowed to undermine standards of health and safety performance for workers in partner organisations either.

These are some of the considerations for building an effective strategy. Mature organisations will no doubt wish to go further by considering what positive things can be done to enhance mental health too.

Last updated: 15 May 2024

Duncan Spencer CFIOSH

Job role
Head of Advice and Practice
Company
IOSH

Themes

  • Health and wellbeing
  • Safety management systems