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BPS Policy Unit

Mental Health Awareness Week - Psychology at Work

15 May 2018 | by BPS Policy Unit

This is the second in our series of blogs as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, and this time focuses on improving wellbeing and productivity in the workplace.

Work is a key part of our social identity and good for our health. Evidence shows that people who are employed generally have fewer psychological health issues.

However for some people work is not a universally positive experience. For example, research has shown that 'the worst management styles generate up to four times more stress than the best’.

Thankfully the science of psychology has much to offer that can make work rewarding, meaningful, and help prevent psychological harm.

Creating a psychologically healthy workplace

The Society recommends that:

  • Future policy statements from government that address work and health should specifically include the need to promote psychological and physical wellbeing in the workforce, and note the evidence on the health costs of poorly designed work.

  • The government should incentivise employers to introduce evidence-based interventions that promote a psychologically healthy workforce.

  • The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence should actively seek ways to increase the uptake of its Mental Wellbeing at Work Public Health Guidance and Workplace Health Management Practices.

  • Employers should maintain transparent two-way communication with their employees on the psychological impact of work arrangements and job insecurity, and offer effective support.

  • Senior managers should regularly discuss employee health and wellbeing at board level to ensure a proactive approach to mental wellbeing at work.

Supporting neurodiverse people in the workplace

The Society recommends that:

  • The government should actively promote its Access to Work Scheme in an audience-friendly way that explains what support is available in easy to understand language.

  • The Department of Health and Social Care (DH&SC) should widen access to early diagnosis and support services for all developmental neurodiverse conditions, irrespective of their severity, as a preventative public health measure.

  • The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Ministry of Justice, and DH&SC should introduce systematic ways of utilising the latest psychological evidence to inform policy and build their evidence base for best practice. They should incentivise research into the evidence gaps on neurodiversity through the DWP’s Innovation Fund and via collaborative research projects through the Work and Health Unit.

  • Employers should proceed with the presumption that a minimum of 10 per cent of employees are likely to have a neurodiverse condition affecting executive functions.

  • Employers should actively create a culture of disclosure to encourage employees to seek the right support when they need it. Employers should make it easier for their staff to disclose neurodiverse conditions and this should be swiftly followed by a workplace needs assessment and implementation of any strategies and provision of equipment that are recommended.

Supporting people into appropriate work

The Society recommends that:

  • The DH&SC and DWP should utilise ‘meaningful activity’ rather than ‘work’ as an outcome measure and explicitly recognise that some individuals’ welfare journey will not end in paid employment.

  • Following the commitments in the green paper ‘Work, Health and Disability: Improving Lives’, the government’s approach to welfare should be based upon encouragement and incentives rather than punitive measures and coercion to encourage job uptake.

  • The Secretaries of State for Health and Work and Pensions should suspend the use of sanctions in the welfare system and commission an independent review of the link between the sanctions regime and the mental health and wellbeing of individuals.

  • The government should commit to undertaking an end to end review of its approach to the Work Capability Assessment process in order to enable the culture change needed to make it beneficial.

  • The Joint Work and Health Unit should establish baselines and set measurable objectives to increase mental health awareness among professionals involved in individuals’ health and work journey.

For a psychological perspective on Psychology at work: improving wellbeing and productivity in the workplace please click here to view the Society’s report.

Nigel Atter (Policy Advisor)

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