Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

NICE report on mental health at work

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The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, an independent organisation providing national guidance on the promotion of good health and the prevention and treatment of ill health, has today produced a new public health guidance note for the Department of Health on Promoting mental wellbeing through productive and healthy working conditions.

Starting from the presumption that work has an important role in employees’ mental wellbeing, but that it can also have negative effects on health, particularly in the form of stress, the guidance includes a very useful paragraph summarising the issues in and around the workplace that pose risks to mental health at work:

Working environments that pose risks for mental wellbeing put high demands on a person without giving them sufficient control and support to manage those demands. A perceived imbalance between the effort required and the rewards of the job can lead to stress. A sense of injustice and unfairness arising from management processes or personal relationships can also increase stress and risks to mental health.

The guidance note is aimed at all those who have ‘a direct or indirect role in, and responsibility for, promoting mental wellbeing at work’ and includes a series of four recommendations, as well as an appeal to primary care trusts, primary care services and occupational health services to provide support for employees and employers in micro, small and medium-sized businesses. The major recommendations intended to assist employers, employees and trade unions to protect the mental health of employees at work are:

– take a strategic and co-ordinated approach to promoting employees’ mental wellbeing

– assess opportunities for promoting employees’ mental wellbeing and managing risks

– provide employees with opportunities for flexible working

– strengthen the role of line managers in promoting the mental wellbeing of employees through supportive leadership style and management practices.

There is little that is new about any of these – good organisations should already have an eye on employees wellbeing and many, in conjunction with their trade unions, do actively promote employees’ mental health. The advice is complementary to the advice and standards on stress that already exists, including from the Health and Safety Executive, and it is a useful addition to the armoury of tools that exists in this area, not least in providing detailed references to other related guidance.

Nevertheless, the timing of the publication is key: in a continuing recession, with rising unemployment and concerns over job security, and when employees are under even greater pressure to cover for redundant colleagues, the guidance is a timely reminder of the costs of poor mental health which can be associated with organisational responses to recession and of the duty of all to safeguard against the worst effect of economic crisis in the workplace.


Written by Calvin

05/11/2009 at 2:21 pm

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