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Mental health at work: why is it important to engage with your workforce?

Posted: 15 February 2019 | | No comments yet

MTR Crossrail is one firm which has chosen to engage with its workforce to develop a strategic approach to the issue and rollout a range of preventative measures and support mechanisms to ensure its employees’ health is protected, and the effects on its business minimised. MTR Crossrail Senior HR Business Partner, Claire Metcalfe, told Intelligent Transport why.

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Mental ill health costs UK employers £34.9 billion annually in reduced productivity, sickness absence and staff turnover, with one in 6.8 (14.7 per cent) of people experiencing mental health problems in the workplace1; and the transport sector is certainly not immune to this issue.

MTR Crossrail Senior HR Business Partner, Claire Metcalfe, said: “Employees in the transport sector are known for their resilience and ability to keep calm in a crisis, and all firms in the sector are proud to report these attributes in their employees. However, in this sector, often in customer-facing roles, employees are regularly confronted with challenging and potentially traumatic situations.”

Triggering mental ill health

“For example, in the transport sector, there were 337 public fatalities on the railways in 2017-18 – an increase of nearly 10 per cent on the previous year – and in most cases employees will have to deal with at least part of that tragedy. In the wider transport sector, a 2014 BBC investigation found that four London bus drivers are attacked every day, with 38 per cent of those attacks either being an assault or involving a weapon2. Five years on that figure is likely to be higher, courtesy of an increase in crime (particularly knife crime) and if you extrapolate the data across the 4.9 billion passenger journeys on local bus services each year3, you can see an example of the extent of the issues faced every day by dedicated transport sector staff. The impact is often felt far beyond the day of the incident itself. Whilst services may resume within a few hours, the effect of the trauma can continue for quite some time.

“The need for staff to manage erratic customer behaviour, tragedies and a range of other stressful, predominantly unplanned-for incidents, and deal with the aftermath, is reflected throughout the transport industry; and, as employers, we have a duty of care to equip staff with the skills to deal with this on an emotional level.”

Metcalfe is keen to note though that mental health can be an everyday challenge for individuals everywhere, from office employees and station staff to drivers and management, it is not just about individual triggers or events: it is about on-going wellbeing and the challenges to mental health that have to be faced on a daily basis.

“It’s easy to think that it’s just the extreme events that contribute to workforce stress and other mental health issues, however, that’s just not the case. Everyone at one time or another will suffer with some form of mental health challenge, from minor upsets to major on-going struggles and it’s important to us to support our employees in an everyday way, gently ensuring that our staff’s wellbeing is cared for.”

Supporting employees and businesses

“Evidence suggests that 12.7 per cent of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions4 and that better mental health support in the workforce could save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year5.

“As the profile of mental health has risen over the last decade, as a sector we have begun to recognise the importance of mental health and talk has turned into action, through conduits like the Mental Health Transport Summit Report (2016), a step was driven by the Mental Health Action Group and Anxiety UK.

“At MTR Crossrail, we are proud to be at the forefront of mental health policy within the industry, which includes signing the employer pledge to support ‘time to change’6, but we also go much further.

“Over the last several years, we have been taking a proactive approach to supporting mental health. We have talked to our workforce and (recently) we have had some fantastic employee engagement results. I think it is now understood by our workforce that employee wellbeing is a priority and, ideally, we want to work towards the prevention or exacerbation of mental health conditions in our workforce.

“In addition to preventative work, if employees are diagnosed with, or already suffer from, mental health conditions which challenge their wellbeing and ability to perform their job role or even daily life tasks, we want to offer the right support, in a timely fashion, to minimise the impact to the individual.”

What is MTR specifically doing?

The business case for ensuring the mental health of the workforce in the transport sector seems to be clear, but what are MTR delivering in practice?

“The range of initiatives we have in place is quite wide,” Metcalfe said. “We have an employee assistance helpline which offers a counselling service with advisors to support individuals with a wide range of mental health issues, and we are in the process of appointing Mental Health Champions throughout the business. We also launched an online wellbeing portal in 2018, for all staff, which has online advice accessible 24/7, expert blogs, healthy habits suggestions and tips to achieve a healthier lifestyle. The information is communicated in a range of ways to suit how different people process information; and because the employee can reach out to it at any time, it can be there as a first point of call for all staff and their families.”

MTR’s online resource is varied. From fitness videos covering a range of techniques including yoga, cardio, strength, HIIT and pilates to nutritional tips and recipes to help improve eating habits to impartial advice from money experts. Although this resource is thorough, Metcalfe explained that this tool is just one part of the MTR mental health programme.

Metcalfe continued: “In addition to this online information portal we launched our first mental health awareness week in 2018, which we will now run annually, including mental health information sessions, communication forums to talk about mental health, (often with guest speakers), drop-in sessions with nutritionists to talk about how diet can affect your mental health and, possibly most importantly, employees sharing their stories via our internal communication channels.

“Employees sharing their experiences breaks down barriers and reduces the unfair stigma attributed to mental health. Knowing that colleagues have suffered too enables us to reach out to employees in need and for them in return to recognise they need support, and ask for it.”

The MTR programme has seen real results on the ground. As a consequence of quarterly, Managing Suicide, workshops with its frontline colleagues, and in conjunction with a Samaritans facilitator, MTR has seen over 150 recorded suicide preventions made by its staff on its line since May 2015. Metcalfe is pleased with these outcomes, but not satisfied.

To conclude, Metcalfe said: “The results of our mental health programme have been very positive for both our employees and our business, however, we need to build on this strong foundation. We have evaluated our current mental health provision and we are in the process of confirming a new Mental Health Strategy that we hope to roll out from mid-2019. This strategy will help us to further support our workforce through prevention and support, with an even more comprehensive mental health programme for this year and beyond.”

References

  1. Lelliott, P., Tulloch, S., Boardman, J., Harvey, S., & Henderson, H. (2008). Mental health and workgov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/212266/hwwb-mental-health-and-work.pdf
  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-26224380
  2. Transport Statistics Great Britain 2017 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/661933/tsgb-2017-report-summaries.pdf
  3. Lelliott, P., Tulloch, S., Boardman, J., Harvey, S., & Henderson, H. (2008). Mental health and work: gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/212266/hwwb-mental-health-and-work.pdf
  4. Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health. (2009). Briefing 40: Removing Barriers. The facts about mental health and employment. Retrieved
  5. https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/get-involved/get-your-workplace-involved/employer-pledge

Biography

healthClaire Metcalfe is a Senior HR Business Partner at MTR Crossrail responsible for the development and delivery of initiatives across health & wellbeing, reward & recognition, employee relations and recruitment, as well as a range of additional HR issues. Metcalfe joined the MTR team six months ago, having held positions at Heathrow Airport, Transport for London and London Overground (now Arriva Rail London).

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