Psychological Health at Work

by Dr Christopher C Ridgeway

Common questions

  1. Surely the psychological health of members of my team is their own personal business, and nothing to do with me?
  2. Who are the psychological health professionals and what do they do?
  3. What can I, as a manager, do to help staff who are suffering from psychological ill health and ensure my organisation does not suffer negative performance consequences?
  4. What about psychological distress or ill health in people I find it hard to understand? How do you manage psychological illness when it is exhibited by someone from an ethnic minority or you have to deal with drug or alcohol misuse?

 

1. Surely the psychological health of members of my team is their own personal business, and nothing to do with me?

Many people experiencing mental health distress appear to believe that it is ‘expected’ that they should not voice their pain. They believe that if they inform others, particularly managers at work, they will face negative attitudes. Their belief, in some cases, may be true. Some management still hold the notion that staff should be able, as they consider they themselves are able, to ‘snap out of it’. Whatever managers’ and/or staff’s beliefs, at some point an ongoing psychological distress experience will exhibit itself at work, with effects that extend beyond the individual, in terms of

  • Changed interpersonal behaviour
  • Absenteeism
  • Increase in alcohol or un-prescribed substance abuse
  • Increase in smoking
  • Decrease in work performance
  • A significant (and negative) change in work behaviour.

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2. Who are the psychological health professionals and what do they do?

The worlds of psychology, psychiatry and counselling are complex. Even health professionals find navigating their way through the maze problematic. For example, there are over 300 types of psychotherapy. Psychologists who might deal with psychological ill health include counsellors and clinical, health and educational psychologists; additionally, there are psycho-analysts, of which there are many types, including Freudian, Jungian, Kleinian and many others.

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3. What can I, as a manager, do to help staff who are suffering from psychological ill health and ensure my organisation does not suffer negative performance consequences?

It will appear to many managers that they loose control once staff have been diagnosed as psychologically ill. However, there are actions you, as their manager, can take to facilitate the most efficient and effective recovery of a member of your staff and enable them return to work in a manner which benefits both the individual and the organisation. You may be able, for example, to help them with housing problems, financial difficulties and benefits claims. Generally, you should be open to their, perhaps complex, needs and be as knowledgeable as possible about all the external sources of help and guidance.

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4. What about psychological distress or ill health in people I find it hard to understand? How do you manage psychological illness when it is exhibited by someone from an ethnic minority or you have to deal with drug or alcohol misuse?

Where there is a large ethnic constituent in the workforce, it is suggested that management adopt a comprehensive training which will provide managers with knowledge of minority group health, including psychological practices. This may also increase managers’ skills in gathering information via translators and family members. Managers might also, with the help of local religious leaders, seek to provide programmes for the minority group(s) on the services available from the NHS.

Alcohol and drug abuse is common and it is increasing. Management, it is recommended, should have policies and practices which identify misuses, provide help to abusers and educate the workforce about potential substance abuse problems.

Overall, management, as with all areas within its responsibilities, needs to ensure it has an ongoing continuous professional development programme to ensure that managers have developed the required skills and knowledge to meet current or future needs.

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