28 November 2017 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal
A lack of understanding of human behaviour in the workplace can create or exacerbate mental health conditions, according to a new report from the British Psychological Society.
For some people with physical or mental health conditions or disabilities, a lack of the right support at the right time from employers can make finding and keeping a meaningful job difficult.
For many people who are unemployed, the experience of navigating the current welfare system in order to find work, claim benefits or seek suitable support has been extremely negative.
Successive UK governments have attempted to address issues around work, health and disability, states the report.
In November 2016, Damian Green, the previous Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, committed to halving the disability employment gap.
The report states: "They recognised the role of work in providing positive psychological and social support and that unemployment can mean a 'downward spiral' that affects not just the individual and their family, but also employers, who lose valuable skills, and the health service that must cover additional demand."
Some recommendations that it makes include:
1. All employers to proactively seek to improve employee wellbeing by developing well-designed jobs, monitoring them and seeking to increase employee engagement. As a minimum this includes implementing the relevant guidance from NICE and HSE on improving psychological wellbeing at work, which helps employers to apply the psychological principles outlined above in a practical way.
2. Employers, and particularly those who employ people on zero hours contracts, to maintain transparent two-way communication with their employees and offer effective support and so that they can carefully consider the psychological impact of atypical
work arrangements and job insecurity. Employers actively design workplace practices to protect their employees' wellbeing and ameliorate the negative effects of insecurity.
3. Senior managers to regularly discuss employee health and wellbeing at board level to ensure a proactive approach to mental wellbeing at work, and include employees in a collaborative way to find solutions. A culture of preventing psychological harm starts at
the top of an organisation but involves people at every level.
4. Organisations to recognise the behaviours of managers which will help to minimise stress-related problems, i.e. fostering positive supervisory behaviours and enhancing managers' capacity to identify and act on symptoms of poor psychological health among employees. Toolkits and self-assessment processes developed by HSE/CIPD and initiatives such as the Workplace Wellbeing Charter can used to support organisations
5. Employers to adopt working practices that support neurodiverse people, such as minimising sensory overload like noise and light in busy, open plan office spaces, and use of clearly printed, simple documentation.
The report can be used by policy makers, commissioners, practitioners and employers to apply relevant psychological theory, evidence and practice to design interventions that work with human behaviour, not against it.