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/

It might be a cold 33 degrees celsius, but BDF’s latest work in Saudi Arabia is warming indeed

By George Selvanera


Business Disability Forum (BDF) Senior Disability Consultant Brendan Roach and myself have descended, again, on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) as part of a programme we are contributing to about improving KSA’s business disability confidence.

Jeddah Light (Jeddah Port Control Tower) is an active lighthouse in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. With a height of approximately 113 metres (371 ft) it has a credible claim to be the world's tallest lighthouse

Led by the Ministry of Labor, the KSA business disability confidence programme explicitly links to efforts to increase the participation of Saudi nationals in the workforce, dominated as it is by expatriate workers. This is an urgent priority for KSA given the public sector can no longer absorb the 200,000 young people that leave university every year; with many millions more young people expected to join the labour force in the coming years. Arab News reported in October 2013 that KSA has 9.2 million expatriate workers making it the fourth most popular destination for expatriate workers worldwide with sector after sector dominated by expatriates.

Saudisation requires companies to employ a minimum quota of local workers: 7% in building, 24% in retail, 50% in insurance and 90% in banking, for example. Companies who fail to comply, risk penalties such as bans on recruiting foreign workers, while good performers are rewarded with financial and administrative support, designed to compensate for the extra cost of employing Saudis, who earn twice as much as their foreign counterparts.

To support the ‘Saudisation’ programme, a system of ‘4 to 1’ is in place which counts every 1 disabled Saudi person in employment as 4 non-disabled Saudi persons in employment. The Government recognises that many companies have created a cadre of phantom employees: disabled people who are paid to stay at home while counting towards the quota. With approximately 400,000 people accessing the Saudi equivalent of jobseekers allowance reporting they have impairments, the current system to encourage employment of disabled people is not working.

We have had the pleasure of working with a senior advisor to the Minister for Labor and a budding version of BDF – Qaderoon which is about 10 months old – who, working under the direction of the Minister for Labor, recognise that such a system is neither sustainable or appropriate. Like us, they recognise, that business needs access to the best talent and that the best companies need to be competent in how they interact with disabled people as employees, candidates and customers.

As I am sure you can appreciate, the context of work could not be more different. We have been privy to some terrible stories about the work and life situation of disabled people. I am struck by how a deaf worker at a large conglomerate attended work every day, even while sick and during annual leave, because he thought that he would not get paid when absent. He could not afford to not get paid. As no one had ever communicated with their deaf colleague, the situation persisted for several years.

I am also struck, however, by the willingness of the small group of leading KSA companies that we have interacted with having an openness to a different path. As in the UK and elsewhere, the motivations for participation in the programme to encourage disability confidence are diverse. Some view improving outcomes for disabled people through the prism of corporate social responsibility, some see the business benefits of access to the best possible talent, others see a chance to be part of a vanguard leading a different approach and others, simply enough, just want to do the right thing by all people, including disabled people.

What we have been delighted to find is that irrespective of the motivation, several of the businesses we have interacted with have recognised that disability confidence requires a whole organisation approach. Just as the leading lights of disability-smart organisations in the UK apply the Disability Standard to measure and focus improvement in their disability performance across the whole business, there is the start of an openness in Saudi Arabian companies to do similar.

Brendan and I have been helping design and test a KSA Disability Confidence Index for driving improvements in business disability confidence across the last 10 months. We have worked closely with 7 companies particularly in testing the Index and it’s been brilliant to learn that since visits we undertook in June 2014, for example:

  • An air conditioning company that had committed to engaging disabled customers in product design has developed a remote control for Braille users. They also are undertaking improvements to the facilities accessibility of at least three of their sites.
  • A pharma distribution company has increased the employment of disabled employees by nearly 50% to 73 and plans to increase by a further 100% to 150 by the end of this calendar year. There continues to be a 100% retention rate for these employees.
  • The CEO of a conglomerate with multiple brands has been meeting informally with disabled staff to signal commitment and to better understand the needs and priorities of staff.

Our current trip to KSA involves delivery of a 5-day induction training for auditors (two of which represent companies whose UK equivalents are BDF Partners). These auditors will have a role in assessing evidence that companies submit using the KSA Disability Confidence Index.

We have been really pleased at the way in which many of the auditors have actively participated in the learning and offered their own personal experiences of dyslexia, living with a cousin that is hard of hearing, living with a grandmother with Alzheimers, having work colleagues with disabilities etc. and how this has influenced their understanding about what is most fundamental to driving change in outcomes for disabled people – the power of personal contact and personal experience.

They also have seen how an accessible recruitment process relies on the know-how to offer and make appropriate adjustments, IT departments improving the accessibility of online application systems, accessible premises that permit candidates with mobility impairments being able to attend interviews and subsequent work, capable line managers that know where they can access support and guidance to confidently interact with their disabled colleague etc. They have understood that a whole organisation approach to understanding disability is essential.

These auditors have also made clear to us that they see the transformation in business practice and disability confidence as requiring many years. This realism is heartening. Just as their understanding about the power of personal contact with disabled people operating at all levels – in business, at home, as leaders, as customers, as family members – is essential to the transformation.

Between Brendan and I, we have had 10 trips to the Kingdom and worked across Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam. At 33 degrees, this may well be the coldest weather we have experienced on our trips here, but it certainly is one of the most warming.

It’s just great to find that we are contributing to the beginnings of a different way for KSA business in how they interact with disabled people and where we are beginning to see the initial buds of positive change for business and disabled people. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, but it is beginning.

A step too far?- A comment on the recent Court of Appeal decision handed down in the matter of Paulley v First Group plc.

By Bela Gor


So the Court of Appeal has decided that bus companies are not required to expect that passengers move out of a wheelchair space on a bus to enable a wheelchair user to travel. The Court decided that it was “a step too far” to compel other passengers to vacate a wheelchair user’s space on a bus. One Judge said that he would “hope and expect” that drivers would do more than simply ask passengers to move but that the law did not require them to do so.

Man in wheelchair getting into a bus

The Court of Appeal’s decision seems inconsistent with the duty to make reasonable adjustments enshrined in law. Mr Paulley has the right under the Equality Act to travel on a bus and the duty to make reasonable adjustments enables that right. Is this not akin to the right that Rosa Parks should have had, as a black woman to sit at the front of the bus? To say that Mr Paulley’s ability to travel on a bus is dependent on the courtesy, unselfishness and moral niceness of other passengers is the same, surely, as saying that Rosa Parks could have sat at the front of the bus if nice white folk didn’t mind – no need for a right protected by law. The woman with the buggy didn’t have a legal right to occupy that space. She just chose to do so and chose not to move when asked and the driver and First Bus Co chose not to compel her to move.

If bus companies don’t have to have a policy to allow wheelchair users to travel then many disabled people won’t be able to guarantee that they can get to work on time or to meetings, hospital appointments or as in this case, a family lunch.

If the final decision of the Court is that the choice of non-disabled people supersedes the rights of disabled people protected by the Equality Act then where does this leave disabled people in this country? Expect to see more on this case.


Join Bela for a discussion on recent key developments in employment and disability at our Legal Workshop on 14 January. Click here to book online or call 020 7403 3020.

Why small businesses should forget the myth that hiring disabled people is ‘too hard’

This Saturday 6 December is Small Business Saturday in the UK. The aim of the day is to encourage consumers to support small businesses in their communities, and highlight the success of those that are getting things right for their customers.

Operating a small business can be tough – running on tight margins, competing with large businesses and dealing with high staff turnover are just a few of the many concerns on the minds of small business owners.

Image of a small business owner smiling on showroom floor

Recruiting for roles in a small business can be particularly hard when juggling these multiple priorities with day-to-day operations; it’s often tempting to settle for the person recommended by a friend or your neighbour’s relative who’s looking for work, just to temporarily fill the void.

If your business takes a similar approach to recruitment, you could be missing an opportunity to tap into the huge market of disabled talent here in the UK. There are 5.2 disabled people of working age in the UK, 53.7% of whom are not currently employed[i]. That’s a sizeable talent pool of 2.8 million people that might have the ideal attitude, skills and experience for your role.

In the past, the financial implications of making a hiring decision has prompted many small business operators to hesitate offering jobs to disabled people, regardless of whether or not they were the best person for the job[ii]. With 42% of disabled people looking for work naming employer attitudes as a barrier to successfully gaining employment[iii], initiatives such as the Department of Work and Pension’s (DWP) ‘Disability Confident’ campaign are looking to change assumptions about hiring disabled people.

Launched by the Prime Minister in July 2013, Disability Confident aims to dispel the myths about the complexities of employing disabled people, and increase awareness of the support available to employers of disabled people.

Part of this campaign involves bringing employers, including small business owners, together to discuss the support on offer from government and organisations like Business Disability Forum to improve employment outcomes for disabled people.

Image of an employee in a wheelchair holding a pot of flowers in a garden centre

The most significant support for small business employers comes in the form of ‘Access to Work’ (AtW): a labour-market intervention that provides grants to employers which can be used to pay for practical support for staff that have a disability, health or mental health condition. The types of support covered by AtW grants include the purchase of special equipment, a support worker to help disabled staff members in the workplace, and fares to work for staff who cannot use public transport.

Businesses with up to 50 employees do not have to contribute towards the cost of Access to Work grants, making it a viable and attractive option for small businesses thinking of employing a disabled person.

Recent changes to AtW have made the scheme even more appealing to small business; the ‘standard list’ of items AtW would not fund, which included vital equipment such as software and chairs, was withdrawn in 2013.

Once your business has made the decision to hire a disabled person, you may find that guidance and support is still needed to enable that person to be successful in their role, whether it be in the form of disability training for other staff or guidance for the new employee’s line manager.

Business Disability Forum offers a wide range of publications, tools and training to employers of disabled people. Our line manager guides can provide staff in your small business with practical advice on the best way to work with, manage and support disabled staff members.

In early 2015, we will also be launching a new suite of e-learning products suitable for small and medium sized businesses. E-learning is an ideal solution for SMEs, as it can be more cost and time effective than sending staff to face-to-face training. It’s a resource that can be used to train new staff, as refresher training for existing staff, or even to train your suppliers.

To enquire about our products and services for small business, contact us via email to enquiries@businessdisabilityforum.co.uk or call 020 7089 2452.

[i] Department of Work and Pensions, ‘Disability facts and figures’, 16 January 2014: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/disability-facts-and-figures/disability-facts-and-figures#employment

[ii] BBC News, ‘Moves to help more disabled people into the workplace’, 18 July 2013: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23355252

[iii] Department of Work and Pensions, ‘National drive to boost disability employment: first ever Disability Confident roadshow tours Britain’, 21 November 2013: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/national-drive-to-boost-disability-employment-first-ever-disability-confident-roadshow-tours-britain

ATW is an outstanding labour market intervention NOT a welfare benefit

By Susan Scott-Parker

Blog-ATW-SSP-799x510

Access to Work (ATW) is a world class labour market intervention which removes the disability specific disadvantages that exclude so many unnecessarily from the UK economy. The scheme has liberated the economic and social inclusion of tens of thousands over the years – and, uniquely, it has benefited many non-users, as it enables job seekers and their advocates to immediately counter the all too frequently encountered employer assumption: “But disabled people cost too much!”.

However over the past two years ATW has struggled, as have those who depend on it and their employers. A recent restructuring has caused confusion, anxiety and hardship as individuals suddenly and without notice or explanation – other than “you cost too much”–  face the possibility of losing their jobs and/or careers. The fund designed explicitly to remove employment disadvantage now risks reinforcing or recreating that disadvantage.

In addition, ATW users who face the most disadvantage in the labour market increasingly report that they are subject to, or feel threatened by, seemingly arbitrary ‘cuts’ – ‘arbitrary’ as no policies explaining such cuts to individual support packages are in the public domain, nor is the detailed rationale for such cuts provided to the individual affected.

We need transparency regarding what is a ‘Rule for Administrative Consistency’ and where the advisor must exercise ‘Discretion via Guidance for tailored support packages’. The need for transparency becomes obvious when one considers the distress caused by what so many heard as the ’30 hour rule’ governing personal support workers – only to be told months later that this ‘rule’ was only ‘guidance’ and that this guidance is not in the public domain.

In addition, disabled people using ATW describe advisor behaviour which suggests that these officials are working on the ‘presumption of fraud’, and that they see as their primary purpose not removing work related obstacles, the cost of which differs greatly from person to person, but of cutting the cost per individual.

This is perhaps understandable in a department tasked with uncovering ‘scroungers’ while cutting the welfare bill, but it is clearly counterproductive given ATW is not a welfare benefit. It requires a different approach when setting out to become more cost effective, given every ATW user is in work or training. The sad irony is that in treating ATW users as though they were welfare recipients, DWP actually risks moving people from work onto the very benefit system government requires it to cut.

Obviously those who pose the greatest opportunity for ‘cost savings’ are disabled employees using the higher value support packages and who by definition are more dependent day to day upon the support which makes their employment possible in the first instance. In other words, it is precisely those most vulnerable in the labour market, those most likely to be long term unemployed, who present to the advisor as the most likely source of ‘cost savings’.

DWP needs to bring leadership to the table and to demonstrate quickly and very publicly that they are determined to deliver significant reform and to rebuild trust, determined to become more transparent and efficient – and to turn to its many allies and keen advocates for practical advice and support.

BDF has supported and admired ATW for years – we are confident that the programme can find its feet again and can use this difficult time as an opportunity and an inspiration for administrative and policy reform.

I cannot stress enough the significance of the insight that ATW is not a welfare benefit for excluded dependents on the state. It is government programme which helps to re-shape the labour market, making it more efficient by removing the labour market obstacles which would otherwise prevent so many from competing fairly for work. Clarity of purpose is essential if we are to create an ATW programme fit for the 21st century.

Given it is not a benefit and given it is not a job placement service, would it not be logical to move the programme from DWP to BIS? How might such a move be used to create an even greater impact on the labour market? Could a re-engineered and re-positioned ATW led by labour market experts remove obstacles preventing far greater numbers from contributing to economic growth?

BDF would be more than happy to offer to structure (pro bono!) a consultation which asks key stakeholders: What could be different about ATW? Could we maximise its impact on the labour market if it were positioned, managed and measured by BIS explicitly as a programme designed to make the Labour Market more efficient?

Event: BT Accessibility Practice

BT_mark_4col_pos_CS3BT Accessibility Practice is an upcoming free event on Thursday 18 September that will be of particular interest to those in banking and insurance. Hosted by our Partner BT, the event gives people from these sectors the opportunity to learn how to deliver workplace adjustments systematically across large complex organisations, in ways that promote productivity and employee engagement, while keeping risk and frustration to a minimum.

There will also be discussions on how to reach and engage your disabled customer community. The event speakers will be experts from the BT Accessibility Practice joined by representatives from another BDF Partner, Lloyds Banking Group, who will take participants through the processes they have implemented on their journey to having one of the best workplace adjustment services.

If you are interested in coming to this event please register below and state if you need any adjustments. Light lunch will be provided.

For further information about BT Accessibility Practice or to register please visit:

http://btglobalevents.com/BTGlobalEvents/Index.aspx?inviteeCode=0.0.1264&templateFolder=BT_Accessibility_Practise_event_2014_EN

 

 

International Summit on Accessibility announces Susan Scott-Parker Scholarship for disabled undergraduate women in Canada

By George Selvanera

SSP and Carleton Uni

Business Disability Forum (BDF) is delighted to advise that at the International Summit on Accessibility in Ottawa last month, a new Susan Scott-Parker Scholarship was announced for a disabled undergraduate student attending Carleton University.

The scholarship is named in recognition of Susan Scott-Parker, the Canadian founder and Chief Executive Officer of Business Disability Forum and a tireless campaigner for the rights of disabled people in the UK and internationally.

The new Susan Scott-Parker Scholarship will be awarded annually to a disabled undergraduate student at Carleton who has demonstrated financial need and academic achievement, with preference given to female students. This award was initiated by Fran Harding and funded through generous donations from her and other Ottawa club members of the Canadian Foundation of University Women (CFUW).

“Through the generosity of the women of Ottawa, we’re really proud that there will be a woman at Carleton who will get some help studying for a number of years and that person will have a disability,” said Harding. “We don’t care what kind of disability it is. If it gets in the way of you learning, than let’s help you get over that a little bit…It’s really nice to know that there’s a possibility that really good things can come from being thoughtful and hard-working and working together for a good cause.”

Susan Scott-Parker adds it would be brilliant to see British universities and businesses coming together to improve the opportunities for disabled women undergraduates to also achieve. “It’s wonderful that the CFUW are making possible the opportunity for a young disabled woman to move forward with her career and aspirations- to be the best she can be. I very much look forward to seeing similar great collaborations for the benefit of young disabled women here in the UK too’.

The Summit explored how the strategic use of information technologies when combined with global collaboration can improve knowledge-sharing and transfer to improve health and empowerment of those with disabilities.