Mental health video - March 2019

LGA Workforce News March 2019 explores the impact of mental health issues on the local government workforce.

In this edition of LGA Workforce News we are exploring the impact of mental health issues on the local government workforce with Councillor Taylor, the Leader of Stevenage Council and Faye McGuiness, the Head of Workplace Wellbeing Programmes at Mind.

In addition, the Chief Executive of Solihull Council, Nick Page, tells us about his particular experience of working in a senior role with mental health issues and how he is using this experience to change how the council supports its staff. 


Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(00:00:13 – 00:01:21)

Hi and welcome to our new Workforce News. Today’s topic is mental health in the workplace and you will have seen a lot of press coverage of this and that’s not surprising because the statistics are quite shocking. Around one in six of us will experience a mental health issue in any given week and that’s on the increase. A recent British Chamber of Commerce report said that over the last three years reporting of mental health issues has gone up by 30 per cent. We thought we’d take a look at what this looks like in local government and what we can do. So, we’re going to speak to Councillor Taylor she is the leader of Stevenage Council and she is also the Lead Member for Equalities here at the LGA and also, we want to look at different jobs that may be affected by mental health issues in local government including chief executives. So, we have Nick Page, he is the Chief Executive at Solihull Council and he is going to talk to us about his mental health issues at work and we also have Faye McGuinness, she is from the charity Mind, and the LGA’s very own Phil Bundy. Faye, welcome. Your charity has been at the forefront of mental health issues for a long time; why is it is such an important issue?

Faye McGuinness, Head of Workplace Wellbeing Programmes, Mind
(00:01:22 – 00:02:14)

So, really there are two reasons. One because there is a huge human cost to not supporting mental health at work, so we know that one in six people in the workplace will experience poor mental health and we know that approximately 300,000 people every year are losing their job because they’re not getting the right support in the workplace. But then also there is the financial cost. So, you spoke a little bit about that earlier, but actually in the terms of the cost to employers we know that it costs them around £33-£42 billion a year by not supporting mental health at work and that is a huge cost to employers across the board. And employers are telling us time and time again that they know they need to be doing something about this but they just don’t know where to start. There is that lack of confidence not knowing what tools are available, thinking that wellbeing is something huge and big and actually sometimes it is really small things and small steps that can have the biggest impact. 

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(00:02:15 – 00:02:18)

So, Mind were part of a major review of mental health issues at work. What were the main findings of the review?

Faye McGuinness, Head of Workplace Wellbeing Programmes, Mind
(00:02:19 – 00:03:41)

Yes. So, in January 2017 the Prime Minister commissioned an independent review looking at mental health at work. And as a result of that Deloitte carried out quite a lot of analysis and what came from that are some of the stats that I spoke about earlier. And the really key thing in that report for employers is the standards that were set out. So, there were 10 standards that were set out for employers. So, six, what we call, core standards which we say every employer, it doesn’t matter what size organisation, what sector you work in, six core standards that you can implement. So, things such as having a Mental Health at Work plan, encouraging open conversations about mental health, promoting good work life balance within the organisation. So, some, what I say, simple, because I work at Mind, so it may feel simple, but it is not simple for every employer, but six standards that they can really implement quite quickly, and then we have four enhanced standards. So, for those organisations that are may be bigger or sort of further along their journey on dealing with mental health at work. So, that looks at things like increasing transparency and accountability, because we’re really trying to promote that with employers to make sure that we’re being more open about what we’re doing on mental health at work. So, those standards are things that I would really, really recommend people look at and as an employer I would recommend that you look at those standards and think about whether you’re implementing them and if you’re not, that’s your first step that you want to take.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(00:03:42 – 00:03:56)

So, Phil, one of the government responses to the review that Faye was talking about was to look at revising some of the health and safety guidance around how employers have to respond to mental health issues and the duty of care and all of that, but haven’t we always had a duty of care around all of this?

Philip Bundy, Senior Workforce Law Advisor, LGA
(00:03:57 – 00:04:25)

Yeah, there has been a, sort of, general duty of care to look after your employees’ physical and mental health for a long time and then, on top of that, when the disability discrimination laws came in back in the 90s, since then, if someone’s condition qualified them to be a disabled person because of their mental health condition, then you had duties to look at reasonable adjustments and not to discriminate. So, there is a longstanding framework here around these issues. It is just that things are moving on now a bit. 

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(00:04:26 – 00:04:28)

So, how are things moving along? What should employers be doing?

Philip Bundy, Senior Workforce Law Advisor, LGA
(00:04:29 – 00:05:31)

I think the key thing is to be more proactive rather than reactive and there has been some sort of HSE management standards, that talk about some of the stuff here. So, it is about making sure that your managers are aware of issues that could cause stress, so such things as workload, relationships between employees and all the rest of it and then actually making sure that employees know that when they come to speak to their employer something is going to be done about it and they know that they can speak to their employer about it, they know that there may well be a discussion around “how can we adjust your workload?” “How can we change your role to help improve things for you?” Then a final recent initiative that came in, the government announced that back in November 2018, is an online national reporting system so that employers can voluntarily sign up to report information about their employee’s health and wellbeing and the whole idea there is to, sort of, drive a transparency around mental health issues and get a culture change to help build a more inclusive society and workforce overall.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(00:05:32 – 05:45)

So, this is clearly an important issue. Before we hear more from Phil and Faye on this I’m going to speak to Councillor Taylor who is the leader at Stevenage Council. Councillor Taylor, welcome. Tell me, why is this such an important issue for local government?

Councillor Taylor, Leader, Stevenage Council
(00:05:46 – 00:06:47)

It is very clear that in a 21st century workplace, causes of mental ill health are rising. There is more pressure on people. The cuts to local government finance are exacerbating that, everyone is being expected to do more in the workplace. We’ve seen over the last at least five years running that the issues around mental health are one of the leading causes of staff having to take sickness leave. Local government staff on average they take about five days sickness absence a year, much of that is because of mental health reasons. So, we need to do all we can to tackle that, both because of productivity, but also because we want to generally promote more equality and diversity in the workplace and helping people to be more productive, to support them through periods of illness, will give them the ability to make a greater contribution in the workplace and that has always got to be a good thing for our authorities and for the people that we represent. 

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(00:06:48 – 00:06:52
So, Councillor Taylor, what do you think would help councils to do more to support their workforce with mental health issues?

Councillor Taylor, Leader, Stevenage Council
(00:06:53 – 00:07:37)

Well, we would really welcome an increased focus from the government on mental health in the workplace and giving it greater equality with physical health issues. I’ve just taken on this role as the LGA Equalities Champion and I think one of the things I’d like to do is help us to promote this issue of tackling mental health and mental distress amongst our staff, so they feel there is a place where they can talk about the issues that they’re suffering from. We will treat that positively and respond very positively to supporting them through any difficulties that they are facing and I think that will make us better employers and it will help people to want to choose local government as their chosen place of employment. 

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(00:07:38 – 00:07:46)

Thank you very much, Councillor Taylor. So, Faye, we’ve heard how important it is to support good mental health in the workplace. What are the key steps employers can take?

Faye McGuinness, Head of Workplace Wellbeing Programmes, Mind
(00:07:47 – 00:09:27)

So, at Mind we talk about our three pronged approach. So, number one around that is promoting wellbeing for all employees. So, it is recognising that you have a whole workforce and not just people with mental health problems. So, it is about promoting wellbeing for all of those staff. So, some examples of that is organisations have signed up to the Time to Change Pledge, which is their commitment to tackling mental health stigma and discrimination and creating an environment where people are open and able to talk about their experiences. And within those organisations they will have Mental Health Champions who will provide that listening ear and signposting onto people. So, promoting wellbeing for all is really important and then, the second step is around how you tackle the causes of work related mental health problems. So, looking at some of those things like the office environment, the things that cause stress. So, a real opportunity to look at what some of those trigger factors are and lastly, it is about providing support for people with mental health problems. Recognising that within your workforce you will have people that need that additional support. So, for example do you provide an employee assistance programme? What support is there available for somebody if they need that help? So, we kind of talk about those three pronged approaches and I think that is really important. I think we need to make sure that people are adopting the standards that are set out in the Thriving at Work review. So, I can’t speak highly enough about employers implementing those standards and what we’ve done at Mind is, we’ve launched a Mental Health at Work Gateway. We launched that in September and, essentially, it is the first stop for anybody that wants to know anything about mental health at work. So, it doesn’t matter what sector you work for, what size organisation you work for, whether you’re a line manager or a HR manager; you can go on and you can find resources that are for you.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(00:09:28 – 00:09:39)

So, Phil, we’re hearing quite clearly how important it is to talk about these issues, but that’s the one thing most employers and most managers are the most afraid of. So, have you got any key tips for getting through that?

Philip Bundy, Senior Workforce Law Advisor, LGA
(00:09:40 – 00:10:31)

I suppose a lot of it can seem quite daunting, especially when you’re looking at when these things get into long term sickness and we all know this, you just need to get on and manage these processes and make sure that you are still communicating with employees through that process, getting your proper occupational health advice. But, you know, a lot of the tools are there already that you have. Most organisations will have regular one to ones between managers and employees to make sure that during those meetings that people are talking about wellbeing issues. I suppose the final point I’d say is; don’t, because of mental wellbeing issues, shy away from disciplinary or capability procedures, because actually, they can then throw a light perhaps on some of the underlying issues so you can address them before you get further down the line and there are real issues that can become more difficult to sort out at that stage.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(00:10:32 – 00:10:47)

So, one of the key things we’ve been hearing today is that mental health issues can affect anyone at any level in an organisation. So, we have a chief executive, Nick Page from Solihull who is going to talk to us about his mental health at work and how he has introduced changes to the council as a result of this. 

Nick Page, Chief Executive of Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council
(00:10:48 – 00:13:22)

For me, it was about six or seven years ago now, where I just hit a wall. It just came out the blue where I just felt like I couldn’t go on. I couldn’t survive doing what I was doing. It wasn’t work generated, but because, and I’ve said this before, we spend so much time in work it came out in work if you like. It was all part of that melee of noise and distraction really. And I had been leading a pretty tough area in Children’s Services and for some reason, in this September when it happened to me, I just couldn’t stop it overflowing. So, I’ve developed, over the last sort of, four or five years in my understanding. Once I think I was diagnosed and, if you like, fessed up to the fact, “look,” you know, “I’m not well,” and actually got over that embarrassment, I just felt, now this needs saying ‘cause, you know, I was talking to our managers and they were saying, “look, life is tough. This is really, really hard,” and it was about me having the confidence in myself and the people I have the privilege to work with and lead, to say, “you know, I understand and this is a bit of my story.” So, we are bringing forward in our organisation through an employee journey support for mental health. Support through the Thrive Programme; many of us are trained as mental health first aiders now and it is bringing it to the front. You know, there isn’t a cure necessarily, but there is a conversation to be had. The other thing I will say is that the thing I noticed in my own life and with lots and lots of people that I work with, is that we’re getting the sort of double end of caring. So, those of us that were parents or are parents, you have that caring for your children, but so many of my colleagues are caring, like I am, for our elderly parents and other relatives and that’s the sort of a bookend really and that can be really, really stressful. It is changing the way we approach work and being far more flexible and being listening you know, being in that listening mode and trying to say, well, on an individual case as well as on a workforce basis, “how can we support you?” But the key thing is talk; don’t let it reach a point where your glass, or whichever analogy you want to use, overflows and you lose control, because that is just so destructive and it takes a long time to come back from that. 

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(00:13:23 – 00:14:21)

Thank you Nick and thank you to Faye and to Phil. I think the key message we can take away from this is that there are loads of things that employers can do to promote and support good mental health in the workplace and there is loads of great stuff that councils are doing to support their staff to be healthy and engaged to the brilliant jobs they do, but the important point to remember is this is about a change of culture. We need to create workplaces where it is okay to talk about mental health issues without the stigma and this is one of the focuses of the LGA Workforce Team. Details of all of these are on our website and if you’ve got any points to raise or information to provide us on any of the topics discussed today you can contact us on our usual e-mail address which is