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German EU Presidency 2007

2007 European Year of Equal Opportunities for All

Diversity at work
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Employers Ill-Equipped to take on Staff with Mental Health Problems

By Disability Rights Commissions

Government efforts to move people off benefit and into work risks failure unless employers get more support to recruit and retain staff with mental health problems, the Disability Rights Commission says today.

A poll by GfK NOP for the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) of small and medium businesses found that two thirds of those surveyed have no procedures in place for managing staff with mental health problems. The survey also indicates that managers are more reluctant to provide workplace adjustments for new staff with a mental health condition than they are for existing employees.

The DRC's findings are a wake-up call for the government aiming to get one million incapacity benefit claimants - forty per cent of whom have a mental health condition - back to work.

Bert Massie, Chairman of the DRC said: " We need to recognise that mental ill health is now operating as a badge of exclusion from the labour market in the same way that race and gender once did. If the Government's welfare reform programme is to succeed it needs to tackle this lack of confidence among employers about recruiting staff who have a mental health condition. If employers had better advice and support they would have less fear about employing someone with a mental health problem - and employees in turn would be less fearful of disclosing their condition. Workplaces infused with fear are not good for anyone - the employee, the employer or the bottom line."

Susan Anderson, CBI Director of Human Resources Policy, said: "Employers accept that they have a key role to play in supporting staff with mental health issues. The majority already offer counselling, assistance with rehabilitation, and stress management policies. But many firms, particularly the smaller ones, need more guidance and advice on how they can help staff. The Government can also make a great difference outside of the workplace, for example by helping improve the skills of those with mental ill health."

The DRC has issued a five-point-plan which calls on the government to provide:

  • a free helpline for employers to provide practical advice on supporting staff with a mental health problem
  • government-sponsored evidence-based 'talking therapy' for workers with a mental health problem
  • more and better training forJobCentrePlus staff
  • campaigns for employers to share good practice and
  • better access for people with mental health problems to training in the skills employers need.

The GfK NOP poll found that small and medium-sized employers want more help to manage staff who develop a mental health problem. The majority (81%) said that a free employers' helpline to advise about managing staff with a mental health problem would be helpful and more than two thirds (68%) said free one-to-one counselling for an employee would help.

The majority of managers surveyed believed employees should disclose their mental health condition. And the analysis revealed that almost a third (31%) of those who felt that employees should reveal a mental health problem said this was because the person would either be a health and safety risk to themselves, a health and safety risk to others, or both.

Evidence shows that around six out of ten people with severe and enduring mental health problems (problems like bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia or clinical depression) can work and/or study.* Employer fears about job performance and health and safety risks are real - but based on inaccurate views of what people with mental health problems can do.
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