Not retiring: second WM People podcast on mental health and best practice

WM People’s second podcast covered everything from best practice in flexible working to mental health in the workplace.

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This week sees the second edition of our bi-weekly WM People podcast. Workingdads editor Ben Falk and me cover three different topics: our Top Employer Awards, mental health and the depiction of working parents on tv.

The first segment on the Awards included discussion of what made the winners win. It included overall winner Lloyds Banking Group who also won the Best for Older Workers Award. The judges picked out the group’s midlife reviews and focus on line manager conversations, their financial security support, flexible culture and the Your Future Your Way initiative which put employees in the driving seat as they think about the later part of their careers. Lloyds has pioneered agile recruitment which means that line managers get challenged about any vacancies which are not open to flexible working. The aim is to encourage managers to think about different ways of working and it is very hands on. It’s about engagement and discussion and shifting the narrative about what jobs can be done flexibly as well as addressing pockets of resistance head on. Just adding a ‘this job can be worked flexibly’ onto an advert doesn’t really do the trick if the line manager involved thinks that is a problem and hasn’t thought about other ways of working.  Changing attitudes requires proactive initiatives. Lloyds also has a dedicated innovation unit that is planning ahead – and the issue of our ageing workforce is one of the key challenges for the future.

Jane Portas, keynote speaker at the Awards, spoke of how financial services products – from pensions to insurance – have been built on a particular model, usually a full-time male worker model, which excludes the more complicated lives that many people lead, which will only become more complicated in the face of changing social expectations and economic needs.  That needs to change to include a much wider range of people and working lifestyles.

The second segment of the podcast – on mental health – responded to the news that Labour says it is going to link mental health treatment and work coaches to get people back into work sooner. Since the podcast, there have been reports that the Government is looking at making it harder for doctors to grant sick notes so that fewer people drop out of work due to ill health. I’m not sure if this is a good thing. On the one hand, we know from studies that being out of work is generally bad for people’s mental health, but on the other hand, work can actually contribute to or be the cause of mental health problems. Bullying, harassment, overwork, burnout….all these are common problems and not allowing someone to take time out who is nearing burn out is to ignore the extent of the workplace problem. There has been a lot of focus of late on mental health at work. A growing number of employers have mental health first aiders and signposting to support. A lot of this is laudable and addresses the stigma often attached to mental illness, but not many employers talk about work-based illness and how to reduce that. Too often bullies – particularly if they are managers – are supported by senior leaders. Too often, work overload is not addressed and it feels as if workloads are only added to. Nothing gets taken away. Too many people are working all hours and on their holidays. Rest is essential. The problem is only getting worse as a result of labour shortages, but acknowledging the impact is crucial.

The last segment of the podcast was about the depiction of working parents on tv – particularly on Maternal, ITV’s new drama series about mums returning to the NHS after maternity leave, and Motherland.  It will be a while perhaps before there is the equivalent of life as a working carer. Last week I interviewed Susan Elkin about her book The Alzheimer’s Diaries. For her work kept her sane, but many carers are forced to drop out. Elkin’s book provides a week by week insight into what it’s like to be caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and why a bit of normality matters.

*You can listen to the podcast here.

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