Mental Health and Ethical Working Practices
“When an employee breaks a leg or suffers an infection, we know how to respond. Mental health should be dealt with in the same way. With a culture of adequate support and sufficient time off, an employee can return to work with confidence and without embarrassment.”
“Changing the corporate mindset on mental health is, I believe, the most fundamental step towards changing things for the better. We need to remove any trace of stigma.”
These are the words of Antonio Horta-Osório, Lloyds Banking Group CEO, writing in The Guardian newspaper. Antonio Horta-Osório is a vocal advocate of the importance of mental health awareness in the workplace and most would agree with the sentiments he espouses in his article.
In fact, the article highlights a number of changes we have seen in Lloyds which mirror principles set out by Time To Change, a social movement which aims to change how society perceives and acts on mental health issues:
- Demonstrate senior level commitment – tick
- Show accountability and adopt employee champions – tick
- Raise awareness about mental health – tick
- Revise policies to reflect mental health issues – tick
- Encourage staff to share personal experiences – tick
- Train line managers in how to discuss mental health issues – tick
- Provide information and direct people to sources of support – tick
The problem is, any company can work through this list and implement the principles, but it doesn’t mean those changes will produce the desired outcome of improved mental health in the workplace.
Our latest member feedback suggests that there are managers within Lloyds who provide exemplary support to members of staff with mental health problems, but it would seem that support is still hit or miss:
“The support and empathy shown by my LDO will always be remembered and I would not still be in the company had it not been for their kindness.”
“I would say the level of support you get very much depends on the team you work with. I am lucky to work with a fantastic ABM and BM… I very much doubt this is the case everywhere”
“There are those line managers who truly support colleagues through their challenging times but they are few and far between.”
“People are scared to speak out. I am still proud to work for Lloyds and they have great policies in place to support colleagues. However, there is a lack of management skill, capability and HR support to adhere to these policies with the lack of support being the key contributor. I am a line manager and support all my colleagues with their health conditions. This has increased productivity, colleague engagement, customer feedback has also helped with my own health. I receive no praise, support, recognition or encouragement from my management in relation to this, I am fighting against the machine but will continue to fight.”
This member deserves a public acknowledgement and our thanks for such a determined commitment to helping staff; a commitment that clearly was not forthcoming from his or her senior managers. Lloyds should be fostering and capitalising on this desire to implement good working practices. Is it?
We have first-hand experience of some excellent management of staff with mental health issues in Lloyds. But we also see the very worst and the overwhelming feedback from members suggests that there are still systemic problems within Lloyds when it comes to the management of mental health issues. Here’s just a small snapshot of the feedback we received:
“LBG’s mental health commitments are merely lip service. Staff are over worked, stressed and unsupported with line managers put under undue verbal pressures to get people with mental health out of the business.”
“It has become a dreadful place to work with unbelievable pressure”
“The work place is more and more stretched as is any compassion or kindness”
“I must admit my jaw dropped open in amazement at the latest tv ads re mental health awareness by Lloyds. Who are they kidding?”
“The actions of the bank give an impression of maximum output for minimum cost, with colleagues at the coal face bearing the brunt and pressure.”
“It’s interesting to note the same managers that drove staff to produce sales (using hard bully boy tactics often) are the same managers now in a caring and almost pastoral role. Leopards don’t change their spots. Most of these managers are simply not capable of caring pastoral roles – yet that’s what we have as staff looking after our health and well-being! Like the wolf babysitting for little red riding hood – it’s just not in most of their natures!”
What’s going wrong?
If Lloyds are going to such effort to champion mental health in the workplace, why are members reporting fundamental failures
Antonio Horta-Osório acknowledges in his article that “There is still much more to do”, but the reality is more complex than the article suggests.
The answer can arguably be found in the report published by the Government last year called ‘Thriving at work: The Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employers’. The authors refer to the “well-established academic evidence-base that good work is good for mental health”. ‘Good work’ consists of “autonomy, fair pay, work life balance and opportunities for progression, and the absence of bullying and harassment”.
What’s promoted by Stevenson and Farmer is an ethical approach to the management of staff. Unfortunately, that’s simply not the reality for a significant number of staff working for Lloyds and other banks.
Look no further than our ongoing holiday pay campaign. Lloyds’ failure to include overtime in holiday pay was a clear and wilful breach of the law. No organisation of Lloyds Banking Group’s size, with all its HR resources and legal advisers, could possibly have failed to know what it needed to do to meet its legal obligations. We must assume therefore, that excluding overtime from holiday pay was simply a blatant attempt to save money. Accordingly, we’re now supporting hundreds of members with Employment Tribunal claims to fight Lloyds for the money staff are owed. It’s difficult to see how Lloyds can be champions of ‘good work’ when this sort of mentality exists. Put another way; if people will try to evade their legal obligations they will certainly avoid doing things that aren’t underpinned by the law and sanctions.
As I said in my last newsletter, without a genuine commitment from those at the top of the organisation to driving the ethical treatment of staff, we will not see sustainable improvements in mental health at work.
If Antonio Horta-Osório is genuinely committed to improving mental health in the workplace, the next publication should focus on what steps the company is taking to ensure that all staff working in Lloyds Banking Group have ‘good work’, built on a firm foundation of ethical working practices.
A stressed working environment, together with the unsavoury behaviours that sometimes accompany it, is often a key cause of mental health issues but tackling overwork usually has a financial cost. And that is the point at which fine words and good intentions often founder.
An Important Lesson for Employers
On one final note, you may have read about the case of Mr Grosset in the news recently. He was a teacher dismissed from a school for showing the 18-rated film Halloween to a class of 15-year-old pupils. Mr Grosset won a claim for £646,000 because his dismissal constituted disability discrimination. Why? Mr Grosset suffered from Cystic Fibrosis and an Employment Tribunal judge, followed by three Appeal Court judges, ruled that Mr Grosset’s judgement had been affected by stress, which was exacerbated by his Cystic Fibrosis. The tribunal concluded that had the school made reasonable adjustments to his workload to accommodate his condition, Mr Grosset would have almost certainly not shown the film.
This case should focus all employers’ attention on the penalties for failure to behave reasonably towards staff and failure to recognise the duty that the law places upon employers to make reasonable adjustments, for both physical and mental disabilities.