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Changing behaviours can improve mental health

As part of its strategies and sector plans, the HSE is putting a focus into workplace stress which is waking people up to mental health issues. What simple measures can management take to help avoid problems at work?

Despite what some people would say, stress is not all in the mind of the individual and based on issues outside of work that they in turn bring in and offload to others. Even if it was, the law is quite clear that employers have to manage the health of their employees at work and this also includes mental health, like it or not.

Mental health spans a vast spectrum from feeling very good and positive about life, the universe and everything through to the full gamut of known ill-health conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia etc. Everyone throughout their lives will move throughout the spectrum to have bad days or potential periods of mental ill-health as well as going the other way and having periods of great optimism about everything.

Employers are often scared that being open to dealing with stress will lead to lots of absenteeism and claims against them, but this is not proving to be the case at present. People who have mental ill-health are often some of those who want to work the most and indeed work can be the stabilising factor in an individual’s life at a time of dealing with problems outside of work.

When we ask how someone is, the most common short answer is: “I’m fine”. When we look at the person saying that, in general we are hoping to hear exactly that response as we don’t want to delve any deeper if the response is even slightly negative. Why? Just asking how someone is and giving them the chance to be able to say they are not fine and letting them get something off their chest for a couple of minutes often makes them feel a bit better at the time. Taking a few minutes out of a busy manager’s day to catch up on any potential problems their team may be having and finding out if there is something simple the business can do to help, costs nothing and may reap benefits.

Conversely, there are times when management overloads people with too much to do, often without telling them what the real priorities are, then they complain when something hasn’t been achieved in a particular timescale when in many cases it doesn’t matter and the response is out of proportion. This makes people feel bad, puts them under pressure and creates worry and anxiety. Anxiety is a diagnosable condition. If people are subject to being treated like this often enough it has the opportunity to turn into time off work. This not only affects the individual but also colleagues picking up the slack, along with having a detrimental effect on productivity, hence profitability may suffer.

If we want to help prevent problems arising in the future, we can start by looking in a mirror and asking the face that stares back, how would I want to be treated to get the best out of me?

Yes, there are management standards for dealing with mental health in the workplace but these all start with a good old risk assessment – the sort of thing we should be doing anyway, However, ahead of this, we could start by being more considerate to our fellow foundry colleagues, friends and employees. Make someone feel happy and they will respond. It benefits them, the foundry owner and the families of our workforce. As with everything to do with physical health, good mental health is in all our interests.

Contact: Richard Heath Prof MICME at the Cast Metals Federation, Tel: +44 (0) 121 601 6392, email: richardheath@cmfed.co.uk