Does ‘Blue Monday’ increase mental health and wellbeing awareness?

By AJ Olaofe

a-man-laying-in-bed-on-a-laptop

Let me ask you a question. How do you feel today?

Do you feel any different from any other Monday? Has a bad weekend or the winter weather affected your mood?

I ask because the third Monday of January, today, is coined Blue Monday: ‘the most depressing day of the year’. And sure enough, this time of year often provokes thought around mental health and wellbeing.

However, as our Senior Disability Consultant Christopher Watkins has pointed out in a previous post, Blue Monday has no real connection with disability, In fact, it’s just the day on which is it easiest to sell you a summer holiday.

Created by Porter Novelli on behalf of Sky Travel about ten years ago, the idea of ‘Blue Monday’ claims to be based on a formula  including metrics including ‘travel time’, ‘delays’, ‘time spent packing’, and a number of other factors without defined units of measurement . By 2009 the formula had been reviewed to consider slightly more reasonable factors like ‘weather’, ‘debt’ and ‘time since failing new year’s resolutions’, again without any defined units of measurements but reassuringly (or miraculously) coming up with exactly the same day.

However, with recent research (from October 2016) indicating that 77 per cent of employees have experienced a mental health problem—and 62 per cent believing this was because of work[1], it is clear that poor wellbeing is not confined to ‘Blue Monday.’

A more difficult question is how to promote, or improve, wellbeing in the workplace. Indeed workplace wellbeing was subject of public debate between Christopher Watkins and fellow Senior Disability Consultant Angela Matthews at a recent event.

In many ways the dilemmas around workplace wellbeing promotional schemes mirror those of Blue Monday: whether it is valuable in promoting inclusion, or counterproductive because it promotes overly general ideas of what is meant by ‘well’ or ‘unwell’.

The solution for wellbeing schemes was found to be ensuring that they took individual employee needs into account, providing adjustments as employers would with a job – a tailored solution rather than a general one.

Similarly the best way to approach Blue Monday as an organisation might be to use the general subject of wellness and happiness to initiate and then widen the conversation about mental health, wellbeing and disability.

Although Blue Monday has no real link to disability, it can be used to start the conversation about it.

Needless to say  it needs to go beyond ‘the most depressing day of the year’. Businesses should keep mental health and disability as part of their conversations about well being all year round. This is why we encourage our Member and Partner organisations to keep in touch and make use of our Advice service and consultancy, your relationship with us can make a huge difference to the well being of your staff.

If  you are looking for guidance around mental health in the workplace take a look at our line manager guide Mental health at work.

Related news

 

Thirty-seven per cent more mental health referrals in January – http://bit.ly/2jPoWZl 

Disputed ‘Blue Monday’ (16 January) date actually coincides with sudden rise in mental health referrals, research suggests (Health Insurance)

Workplace design can combat winter weather’s effects on employee wellbeing – http://bit.ly/2ij8EXD

Features such as natural lighting, quiet areas and communal spaces could boost workers’ wellbeing during winter months (Workplace Insight)

44 per cent of workers say winter has negative impact on their mental health – http://bit.ly/2ijaHeo

Similarly, 30 per cent say winter affects their productivity (Business Matters)

 

[1] Business in the Community, ‘Mental Health at Work Report 2016’, p.3 (http://wellbeing.bitc.org.uk/system/files/research/bitcmental_health_at_work_exec_summary.pdf, retrieved 19 December 2016)

Is there really a business case for website accessibility?

By Rick Williams

home-worker-image-obscured-person-using-a-laptop-with-mug-of-coffee

Following the publication of the Click-Away Pound Report http://www.clickawaypound.com I’ve been reflecting on why website accessibility and usability for disabled people is still an issue after all these years. It is a puzzle to me that 71% of disabled users click-away from sites with access barriers and consequently displace £11.75 B to accessible sites. Why do businesses let that happen? It definitely isn’t good business on any level.

This situation exists despite:

  • The Equality Act and its predecessor – the Disability Discrimination Act
  • International standards
  • Government guidelines
  • A British Standard
  • Expert guidance and discussions
  • Campaigns

The traditional business case

It seems to me there are three key aspects to the broader business case:

  • Legal
  • PR
  • Commercial

These three issues are, of course, inter-related but are worth considering individually.

In reality the legal risks of having an inaccessible website are low in the UK. To make a case a customer would need to demonstrate a breach of the Equality Act which affected them personally and this would need to be done in a County or High court which would be expensive and time consuming. No cases in this field have been pursued to their conclusion; the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has initiated several cases against businesses with inaccessible sites but the cases were settled out of court, with the organisations involved agreeing to address the issues. The lack of cases coming to court probably explains why the law has had little impact in this area since its introduction (in the form of the Disability Discrimination Act) in 1995, although challenges are always a possibility. Interestingly, in the USA the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 allows for class actions and the imposition of much higher compensation payments. Even so, the US approach has not delivered a fully accessible web presence.

There are potential PR risks if website accessibility is ignored and this has implications, albeit limited, for loss of reputation. Any business strategy based on customer-focus and inclusivity is quickly undermined by the lack of an inclusive website. Such stories are unlikely to generate significant coverage in mainstream media and result in PR damage unless a legal challenge is mounted, but they do attract attention on social media and generate ’mood music’‘ of negativity about the business’s understanding of the issues which can be damaging to the brand.

Even commercial judgements such as lost or displaced revenue has not driven business to ensure accessible websites; if it had there wouldn’t be this issue. This surely can only mean businesses don’t understand its size and implications.

Clearly this business case has failed to gain traction. What is the reality that business is failing to grasp?

The business issues

Considering the trends identified in the Survey and applying them to the national data is illuminating.

  • The most recent ONS estimate of the UK population is 65.11 million in mid-2015 of whom 87.9% (46.47 million) have internet access.
  • CAPGemini projected overall UK online spending to be £126 billion by the beginning of 2016 equating to an average spend per head of the UK population with internet access of £2710.
  • In 2016, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated there were 8.6 million internet users with a disability in the UK
  • This Survey found that 71% of internet users with a disability have access needs; this translates to 6.1 million people
  • Taking an average spend per head of £2710, the online spending power of 6.1 million disabled people with access needs in 2016 is £16.55 billion.
  • The Survey found that 71% of the total 6.1 million disabled internet users with access needs (4.3 million people) simply click-away when confronted with a problematic website.
  • These figures equate to a click-away figure of £11.75 billion lost in 2016 from those sites which are not accessible.

These calculations are extrapolated from the Survey’s findings so care must be taken when considering them. Nevertheless, these figures are so large that even allowing for a significant margin of interpretation they are too large to be ignored.

This assessment is supported by findings from our wider work in this field which indicates that over 70% of websites present significant accessibility and usability barriers to disabled users. This means that over two-thirds of businesses are significantly undermining their own potential online customer base. This spend is not lost but simply moves elsewhere as disabled users with access needs turn to a website which is more user friendly. Two-thirds of online retailers are passing customers and sales to their competitors.

Conclusion

To answer the question ‘Is there really a business case’ I believe the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’, both nationally and at the level of the individual business.  However, business needs to get a better understanding of the bottom line implications and adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach to website accessibility rather than treating it as a ‘nice to do’ or ‘bolt-on’.

A brief look at the numbers in the Click-Away Pound report should be enough to persuade organisations that they are potentially ignoring and excluding a large number of potential customers. Also businesses need to bear in mind that if a disabled shopper clicks away from their site to one of their competitors, they show little inclination to return.

Take a look at the Click-Away Pound report and get an insight into the business issues and how inaccessible websites impact on your business.

http://www.clickawaypound.com

Blue Monday’s dirty secret (and why it doesn’t matter)

By Christopher Watkins


Today is the third Monday of January; so-called Blue Monday, apparently ‘the most depressing’ day of the year. It’s around this time of year that I get a glut of companies phoning me up to ask if I could speak at their mental health awareness event, run a workshop, or advise on the health & wellbeing activities they are planning to ‘celebrate’ the big day. And it makes a great deal of sense to do so: performance dips and sickness absence peaks are a well-recognised phenomenon in January, and such wellbeing exercises can minimise the effects of these on overall business performance. An eye-catching ‘day’ to attach an agenda to can also be a useful tool to raise larger issues across large organisations and promote cultural change.

I must confess, however, that I have mixed feelings towards the ubiquitous mass of awareness days at the best of times. My cynical side is frequently frustrated by the idea that by simply ‘raising awareness’ of an issue we somehow make a meaningful difference to society or individuals’ lives. And then there’s so many of them! Did you know that next month is not only National Heart Month[1] and Raynaud’s Awareness Month[2], but Cholangiocarcinoma Awareness Month as well[3]? Within the first week of February alone, we have World Cancer Day (4 Feb)[4], National Doodle Day (for Epilepsy, 5 Feb)[5] and ‘Wear it Beat it’ (for the British Heart Foundation, 6 Feb)[6], before a week of Tinnitus awareness starting on 8 Feb[7]?

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

‘Blue Monday’ might just wind me up more than the rest put together, not only because it is an issue close to my heart, but because it hides a dirty secret; one which, I fear, those working in the area are embarrassed to admit lest it promote cynicism towards the wider agenda. I have taken to asking organisations planning their Blue Monday events what they understand the meaning of the day to be, and have heard responses describing it as anything from the day on which people are most likely to be off sick with depression, the annual peak for deaths by suicide, the day in which people are most likely to self-report as being depressed…

Unfortunately, the reality is that Blue Monday has about as much to do with credible research into the seasonal prevalence of mental ill-health as the 1983 New Order masterpiece by the same name. The third Monday in January is, in fact, the day on which is it easiest to sell you a summer holiday.

Or, more specifically, it is a widely discredited invention peddled by PR company Porter Novelli on behalf of Sky Travel about ten years ago. It claims to be based on an entirely nonsensical formula based on metrics including ‘travel time’, ‘delays’, ‘time spent packing’, and a number of other factors without defined units of measurement[8]. To be fair, by a 2009 press release the formula seems to have been reviewed to consider slightly more reasonable factors like ‘weather’, ‘debt’ and ‘time since failing new year’s resolutions’, again without any defined units of measurements but reassuringly (or miraculously) coming up with exactly the same day[9].

I’m not, to be clear, passing judgement on any of the causes or issues behind these awareness events and don’t for one minute want to suggest that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s easy to see, however, how well-meaning businesses and diversity teams can get bogged down in a relentless calendar of ‘awareness raising’, to the extent that they might lose sight of what’s really important: the benefits to business, individuals and society as a whole delivered by diverse workforces and inclusive practices. My message is simply to take a step back and consider the purpose of any event or wellbeing exercise you are taking part in today, and specifically the value these activities add for the time, effort and money invested.

So, have I been turning down these Blue Monday speaking engagements on principle, then? Of course not. After all, almost every awareness day is essentially ‘made up’, and it would be foolish to dismiss them on this basis. If you are currently investing in mental health in your organisation, it makes great sense to attach your activities to a (rightly or wrongly) recognised ‘awareness day’. It’s also perfectly sensible to invest in mental wellbeing at this time of year because you have identified that performance or sickness absence issues peak in the winter months. But for the sake of not just pedantry but transparency and credibility, please let’s stop calling Blue Monday ‘the most depressing day of the year’ and rather see it for what it is: a potentially useful tool to promote meaningful cultural change and reap the benefits of a healthy and inclusive workplace and society, with no need for a fabricated ‘meaning’ beyond that. Let’s have the courage to be led by tangible and empirically-founded diversity and inclusion priorities based on business and cultural need, not the unrelenting calendar of awareness events!

[1] http://www.bhf.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[2] http://www.raynauds.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[3] http://www.ammf.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[4] http://www.worldcancercampaign.org/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[5] http://doodle-day.epilepsy.org.uk/

[6] https://wearitbeatit.bhf.org.uk/

[7] http://www.tinnitus.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/science/2006/dec/16/badscience.uknews

[9] https://web.archive.org/web/20100221213456/http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/media/news-releases/news-releases-2009/13-january-2009


You can talk to Christopher at christopherw@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk or Tweet him at @chrispydubbs

The Apprentice – you’re hired!

By Charles Clement

Charles Photo 

Recruiting the right candidate can be a challenging business. How do you make sure you get the right person with all of the skills necessary to do the job?

If you’ve been following the las t 12 weeks of The Apprentice you’ll see that more and more candidates are expected to show a diverse range of skills, not only technical abilities, but personal and social skills too. Just like Lord Sugar employers are increasingly using a diverse range of methods to test applicants. However, these can present all manner of challenges for disabled applicants. There is a legal duty to make adjustments for disabled candidates during the recruitment process. Let’s see what changes Lord Sugar could have made during the process.

First of all, there is the ‘brainstorming’ session at the start of each task. Everyone is vying to be heard and talking over each other and it can turn in to a bit of a bunfight. This could be really stressful for someone who feels anxious easily. The unstructured nature of these meetings may also cause problems for people who are hard of hearing. One of the most effective things here would be to do some planning beforehand. A clear agenda of what is going to be discussed and when would make the meetings a little less stressful and help deaf candidates keep track of what was happening. Another easy change that could be made would be to ask everyone to speak one at a time. This may help those who needed to lip read or use an interpreter. But wouldn’t these changes make the task easier for everyone? And just think how much more productive they would be.

Then there are all the tasks that require candidates to run around buildings or warehouses taking measurements on the fly or adding things up in their head – no calculators allowed. Now this is just asking for mistakes to be made – disabled or not. And if you have a condition such as dyslexia, this might be particularly challenging. Why not allow people some quiet time and space to double check figures and make sure they are right or, better still, allow them to use a calculator. I’m assuming that you wouldn’t ban calculators from the workplace too?

And what about the creative challenges such as creating and branding a product? Not everyone will feel comfortable with this type of challenge – particularly perhaps if you have Asperger’s Syndrome or autism, and might feel more comfortable working with figures or processes (although of course this isn’t the case for everyone). Often, people will only apply for roles they think that they can do; so if someone applies for a role as an accountant, don’t give them a generic test that requires creative thinking, unless that is required in the job.

With all this in mind, Lord Sugar might actually decide it would be reasonable to allow some candidates to bypass the process completely and do a work trial on the job. But I suppose that wouldn’t make very good television.

To ensure your recruitment process is inclusive and giving your business access the widest talent pool, contact Business Disability Forum (BDF) for more advice. BDF member organisations can get in touch with our Advice service on 020-7403-3020.

“Trust me, I’m a doctor” – what do your line managers do when they receive a fit note?

By Christopher Watkins


File it away and hope it sorts itself out? Panic and phone HR? Or, exactly what it tells them to do?

Fit notes, or ‘Statements of Fitness for Work’ (for those with too much time on their hands) are a potentially invaluable tool in supporting people with disabilities or long-term physical or mental health conditions, but only if they are used appropriately by the managers that receive them. None of the reactions mentioned above are particularly useful to the employer but are all too common in some organisations, particularly in environments where line managers often have responsibility for large teams with high turnover.

Sometimes they’re just ignored – or, if a colleague’s absence is related to a disability or long-term condition, managers can be nervous to get involved and sickness absence can be left unmanaged to continue indefinitely, often on full pay. This is costly for the employer and of no benefit to the employee, whose employment prospects can be damaged as they lose the opportunity to pursue their career with some simple workplace adjustments.

Two people having a conversation at a desk

Sometimes managers just panic and phone HR. This is probably the least legally risky approach, but can put unnecessary pressure on often overworked HR service centres handling relatively straightforward queries.

However, it is perhaps most unhelpful for line managers to simply take everything written on the fit note as ‘gospel’, following the advice without further consideration, sometimes to the detriment of both the employee and employer.

In the most concerning cases, if an employee is being repeatedly signed off sick by their GP for stress, the line manager’s reaction can be to refuse to let them work. If the employee’s stress is related to factors outside of work, however, being prevented from working can exasperate the situation, leading to unnecessary sickness absence despite the employee feeling they were able (and continually asking to) work. This can be a highly stressful – and expensive – situation for all involved, and highlights the potential damage that can be caused by a last-minute tick-box and barely legible scrawl from an over-worked GP on her last appointment before lunch (and yes, believe it or not, over 80% of fit notes are still handwritten in 2015, five years after they were introduced as the efficient digital alternative to their predecessor[1]).

In such situations, the problem is not that the GP is wrong; indeed, there may be sensible health and wellbeing reasons behind the employee being unable to work. The danger lies where line managers take the advice on the fit note – advice written to the employee – as binding rules that they needed to follow, rather than useful medical guidance to discuss with the employee. A conversation with the employee, the GP and possibly a second opinion from an Occupational Health advisor can improve understanding of the reasons behind the absence, helping the employee back to work as quickly and supportively as possible, and saving the business considerable expense and legal risk in the process.

Deeper still, perhaps the issue is that we can’t know how often this is happening as the problem itself is that these issues aren’t escalated or recorded until things start to go seriously wrong. One can imagine many more cases where an employee with a long-term health condition or disability isn’t able to receive the support they need because (at least for the 20% of fit notes produced digitally), ‘computer says no’.

There’s been some fascinating research in recent months by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the University of Nottingham into this area with some helpful recommendations; the key message to me being that GPs complain that employers don’t act on their advice while employers complain the GPs don’t give them any useful information[2].

It may not be a solution, but surely a starting point here is to get GPs and employers talking to each other. Particularly with the advent of the government’s Fit for Work service, this is likely to only grow as an issue for employers as the quantity – and hopefully quality – of medical advice landing on managers’ desks increases. Like the introduction of fit notes in 2010, this is a potentially very useful and cost-effective tool if managers are properly briefed on how to use this information. If not, conflicting policies and advice from different sources may quickly prove counter-productive.

What measures have you taken to prepare your policies and inform your line managers?

For more information on managing sickness absence and disability visit: http://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/advice-and-publications/publications/line-manager-guide-attendance-management/

You can talk to Christopher at christopherw@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk or Tweet him at @chrispydubbs


[1] Nottingham University research ‘Getting the best from the fitnote’ (2015), pp. 19 (http://www.iosh.co.uk/~/media/Documents/Books%20and%20resources/Published%20research/Getting%20the%20best%20from%20the%20fit%20note.pdf?la=en) accessed 18 August 2015

[2] http://www.iosh.co.uk/fitnote

It isn’t as simple as just saying employer culture needs to change

By George Selvanera


On Channel 4’s Leader’s Debate last month, a member of the studio audience asked “What do the Conservatives plan to do to get more disabled people into work?” Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“The culture of employers needs to change.”

I imagine it was a convenient shortcut for David Cameron to say the culture of employers needs to change. The ways culture needs to change, how these changes are made and the role of Government in influencing change – both directly and indirectly – doesn’t really make for a neat, short answer.

After all, it isn’t straightforward to make and sustain changes in systems, processes and practice generally, let alone when addressing disability – a wonderful catchall term for everything from dyslexia to dementia; to diabetes to wheelchair user; to mental ill health. That said, I am encouraged by increasing numbers of private and public organisations which are making real change, with more than a hundred large private and public sector employers using the Business Disability Forum (BDF) Disability Standard to help guide their disability performance improvement.

Office environment with focus on man working in foreground

Last year’s Government disability and health employment strategy wasn’t especially practical when it pointed to BDF Partners Sainsbury’s, BT and Lloyds Banking Group (LBG) as examples of businesses that have a strong record of recruiting disabled people and then called on other businesses to do the same.

Sainsbury’s, BT and LBG each have senior disability sponsors championing a whole organisation approach to improving their disability performance. They all have networks for their disabled staff that inform employee and customer innovations for disabled people. They all invest in improving the skills and confidence of line managers to manage the needs of staff members with disabilities and long-term health conditions. They all operate workplace adjustment processes that enable access to adjustments for employees so they can be productive and happy in the work environment. They also increasingly deploy disability-smart procurement processes. The latter point is essential given the number of outsourced functions that directly impact the ability of any business to deliver for disabled people in areas such as facilities management/property, technology, recruitment and occupational health. So yes, they do well in recruitment of disabled people, but it is because they are prioritising and investing in improving disability performance across the whole organisation.

Building disability confidence is a permanent work in progress, and at BDF, it is exciting to see the way in which businesses and public sector organisations are learning from each other – sometimes even competing with each other – to get better at how they recruit, retain and do business with disabled people.

We are working with a group of BDF Partners that include Royal Mail, EY, de Poel Community and the Department of Work and Pensions to understand more about what helps and what gets in the way of organisations retaining their disabled employees. This working group is overseeing a large scale research project where more than 140 private, public and third sector organisations nationally have participated and shared their perspectives about their own skills and confidence and the quality of their systems and processes in retaining and developing disabled employees. The research will be published in June (watch out for the launch date) and sets out just how important it is to have people with visible disabilities in workplaces, effective workplace adjustment processes and organisational policies that encourage disabled people to achieve at work. It also makes clear that many organisations are getting better and want to do more.

The Government could help too. At BDF, we are often told that Access to Work remains overly complex, unfriendly and in need of substantial improvement. While some of the recent changes to Access to Work are good – most notably the end of the 30-hour guidance and the potential development of IT portals, the opportunity to make Access to Work better for business and subsequently better for disabled people, was not taken up. It seems very odd not to have an employer helpdesk or workplace based assessments that involve the employer and the employee or an accreditation scheme that would reduce red tape for employers who have a positive record of employing disabled people and interacting with Access to Work. Further still, it is extremely bad policy to introduce caps that will limit businesses capacity to recruit disabled people and so disabled people that might have worked and contributed to the tax pot, instead risk consignment to benefits.

Similarly, the Government’s multi-billion pound Work Programme would benefit from Welfare to Work providers proactively engaging with employers to ensure they are skilled and confident in managing the impact of particular disabilities for individual candidates in the specific workplace, and have the knowledge needed to support disabled staff to perform at their best.

Indeed, this approach is something for the wider recruitment industry so that they are working with candidates and employers to ensure that candidates with the right skills for a particular job are being ‘pushed’ to organisations that are confident about managing the impacts of a particular disability within a particular role at their workplace. Again however, I am encouraged by BDF work with the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCO) who are keen to build the skills, confidence and expertise of the recruitment profession to do just this. In a similar way, the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative Awards (RIDI) spotlight and celebrate excellent recruitment practices that are making a difference in securing sustainable employment for disabled people.

Increasing the number of disabled people in work and being fulfilled and achieving at work won’t happen overnight and yes, David Cameron is right about the importance of culture. But it isn’t anywhere near as simple as that. We all have a role. Government does. All parts of an organisation do – not just their recruitment section, but facilities, procurement, HR, learning and development, senior leadership, communications, IT etc. Suppliers and partners do. And as customers, we all can by transacting with businesses that state and deliver on public commitments to recruit and retain disabled people.

A taboo too far? Supporting colleagues expressing suicidal feelings in the workplace

By Christopher Watkins


The words ‘stigma’ and ‘taboo’ are fast becoming something of a cliché in the world of mental health and employment, yet few could argue that there are some issues that managers and HR professionals feel uncomfortable dealing with. It is hard to think of a more difficult situation than a colleague expressing suicidal feelings in the workplace.

Last month saw the Office for National Statistics release data on the number of deaths recorded as suicide in 2013[1], showing suicide rates continuing to track upward since the recession in 2007. The groups at most risk (and seeing the greatest increase) are men between the age of 30 and 59; the group most likely to be in full-time employment. Suicide remains the most common cause of death for men under 35.

These figures are only the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that only 1 in 10 attempts are fatal, and the majority of people experiencing suicidal feelings do not go on to attempt to take their own life. Collecting accurate statistics on this is next to impossible, but it is realistic to assume that in an organisation of 500 employees at least one will be experiencing suicidal feelings at any one time.

Colleagues having serious discussion

With recent ‘stigma busting’ campaigns working to encourage employees to be open about their mental health, it is reasonable to expect the number of employees expressing suicidal feelings to their manager or HR to increase. Our Business Disability Forum Advice Service has noticed this increase. While no manager or HR professional wants to find themselves having this conversation, the increasing openness of employees about these feelings presents an opportunity for intervention, support and ultimately prevention.

If you work in HR, this is an issue you are likely to come across at some point in your career – and it pays to be prepared. Navigating the initial conversation may be an intimidating experience. You are likely to feel out of your depth, but try to understand that the other person is probably feeling exactly the same way, particularly if this is something they are not used to speaking about. Don’t panic, judge or make assumptions; take the person seriously and accept that while you may not be able to help in the immediate term, you are very unlikely to make things worse.

Establishing boundaries and responsibilities at this early stage is absolutely essential. This is not something you can keep to yourself and it is not your place to become the person’s counsellor. When an employee tells you personal information about their mental health and has asked you to respect their confidentiality, it is safest to do so; but, you should still speak to HR (or BDF’s Advice Service) about the situation without identifying the individual. It may be appropriate to breach the employee’s confidentiality if they are at risk or their health is affecting their employment, and whoever you speak to should be able to advise you on this.

If they are not already receiving support from elsewhere, refer the employee to appropriate help. Depending on the circumstances, this could be to their GP, local mental health services, your EAP or Samaritans. If you feel that someone is at immediate risk of harming themselves, you should always contact the emergency services by dialling 999.

Finally, remember that suicidal feelings are rarely a ‘one-off’; this is an on-going situation that you may be supporting the colleague through for some time. These feelings may also be indicative of mental ill-health, so after the initial meeting and any urgent action required, you should sit down with the employee to explore the ways in which you are able to offer support. They may also need reasonable adjustments to their role, such as flexible working, more regular 1:1 meetings with their line manager, or a Tailored Adjustment Agreement

Christopher leads our Mental health: Handling serious situations masterclass, which equips HR and diversity professionals with the skills and knowledge they need to handle unusual and complex situations, including colleagues who are exhibiting suicidal feelings or unusual behaviour.

BDF members can also contact Christopher for advice on cases they are dealing with on christopherw@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk or 020-7089-2482


[1] http://ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/subnational-health4/suicides-in-the-united-kingdom/2013-registrations/suicides-in-the-united-kingdom–2013-registrations.html

[2] https://www.disabilitystandard.com/resource-category/resource/tailored-adjustment-agreement/