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Mental health awareness in the workplace

New study finds workplace education key to successful mental health strategy

Findings from a recent worldwide study conducted by Ipsos MORI have highlighted worrying levels of under-reporting in relation to mental health issues within the workplace. Nearly 4,000 employees from the UK, US, Australia and Canada took part in the survey commissioned by Teladoc Health.

Collated data from survey respondents provided clear indication that tackling mental health issues within the workplace remains extremely challenging. The headline statistic revealed that 82% of employees diagnosed with a mental health condition had not told their employer. Reasons cited for secrecy indicate the stigma associated with mental health issues remains high: 38% feared their career would be damaged, 22% worried that their professional reputation would be harmed, 21% were embarrassed and 17% believed their abilities may be questioned. A staggering 10% feared that disclosing a mental health issue could lead to dismissal.

Undoubtedly concerning results, especially when HSE figures in recent years highlight the rise in work-related stress and mental illness. In 2019 the HSE published data showing over 50% of lost days through illness could be attributed to either workplace anxiety or depression. The dominance of mental health issues were recorded for the first time in the 2017/18 HSE figures and this trend looks set to continue. More specifically, 12.69 million days were lost to mental health related issues in the UK during this period, accounting for 54% of the 23.5 million days lost overall. However, there may be some signs of encouragement as the most recent figures show a drop in both total lost days and stress related days from the prior year.

Justin Tomlinson, the UK Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work recently asserted: “We lose an estimated 300,000 people a year through mental health conditions and it is crystal clear that by using early intervention within the workplace it is significantly easier to support someone than once they’ve crashed out to try to rebuild their confidence to get them back into work.

“We need to increase the capacity of health support workers, not just for large organisations… but for those small and medium businesses that make up 40% of the private sector jobs.”

Tomlinson’s desire to increase mental health support and education are echoed by the findings of the Ipsos MORI report. Respondents were overwhelmingly in favour of increased workplace support and education: 43% believed not enough was being done in their workplace to increase awareness of mental health issues and 55% wanted improvements to mental health provision in their workplace.

The study also revealed that an open and transparent attitude to mental health in the workplace would help to normalise issues and increases employee confidence. Half of respondents believed if management were more open about their mental health issues it would help to alleviate the associated stigma. Around 45% of those surveyed affirmed that they would seek workplace help with mental health issues if there was a more open attitude to issues where they worked.

Bureaucracy is dead, long live agile!

Bureaucracy is dead, long live Agile!

It’s hard to believe, but once upon a time bureaucracy was considered best practice, something to strive towards. In fact bureaucracy allowed organisations to grow much bigger than they had previously. Features including, hierarchical structures, division of labour, strict regulation and rigid chain of command were very much de rigueur. The German sociologist Max Weber admired aspects of modern bureaucracy but also warned of its threat to freedom and creativity. In fact Weber didn’t mince his words and likened increasing bureaucracy to a “polar night of icy darkness” and the overall system as an “iron cage”. Sound familiar? Nowadays, the very mention of bureaucracy is treated with eye rolling disdain and collective despondency.

Weber’s iron cage analogy still resonates strongly in today’s modern workplace. Most people encounter some form of bureaucracy in their daily lives or indeed work for bureaucratic organisations. Could there be a link between the machinations of modern bureaucracy and employee engagement? In a 2017 global workplace survey Gallup revealed that only 15% of employees feel engaged with their work. The report estimated that lost global productivity due to low employee engagement cost employers £5.6 trillion annually. Whilst the rigid controls of bureaucracy cannot take all the blame for low employee engagement it should certainly shoulder some of the responsibility. So how do we break out of the iron cage? Step forward Agile.

For organisations stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire and dealing with a jaded workforce the ‘Agile Way’ can be seen as a beacon of hope. The 2019 State of Agile Report reveals an interesting array of facts about Agile.

Whilst adopting Agile may not be a silver bullet, 64% of survey respondents reported an increase in team morale where Agile practices were implemented. Could Agile make a dent in those 85% of dis-engaged employees reported by Gallup?

One of the most notable changes from last year’s survey is the importance of Customer/User Satisfaction in measuring success. While business value still ranks highly, and there was a 27% increase in respondents realising reduced project costs as a tangible benefit of adopting Agile, Customer/User Satisfaction ranks as the top measure of success for agile initiatives

Other drivers listed by survey respondents for adopting Agile included the ability to manage changing priorities, project visibility, delivery speed, increased team productivity, project predictability and project risk reduction.

The benefits of finding your ‘Agile Zen’ are clear but how can we best enable successful Agile implementation? The latest report asserts that 97% of organisations have initiated agile methodologies in some form. However, competence in adopting Agile successfully was seen as low, with only 17% of respondents claiming high levels of success. Investment is crucial for scaling Agile successfully. The top responses from agile practitioners on the best way to implement successful agile practices were appointing internal agile coaches, executive sponsorship and company-provided training.

So, Bureaucracy might not be dead but Agile is definitely here to stay. If your organisation can invest in Agile then you stand a better chance of breaking free from the iron cage!