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Takeaways from the recent Joss Search workshop 

We recently hosted a workshop to help our clients deal with mental health related issues more skilfully and compassionately.

It was a really insightful morning where the attendees shared learnings, as well as heard practical, proven strategies from our guest speaker, Greg Jones - a Partner and specialist HR lawyer with Greene & Greene solicitors. 

If you weren’t able to make it below are the key takeaways and insights.

Some worrying statistics about mental health

  • You lose 30 days per employee per year to sick days/mental health issues
  • 25% of people experience mental health issues at work each year
  • 8% of people in the workplace are suffering with both anxiety and depression
  • 95% of people who are off sick with stress will lie about the reason
  • Only 13% of people feel comfortable speaking about mental health at work
  • 20% of people have experienced suicidal thoughts in the workforce

However very encouragingly...


What People Said: How mental health impacts their firm

1 – High burnout during intense periods

Sickness rates typically increase amongst investment professionals during and immediately after getting a deal over the line. To close the deal, most investment professionals work 15, even 18-hour days – and then hit burn out. Sometimes this burnout translates into a month, even six weeks, post-deal absence. 

To combat this…

One 120-person global company talked about how they offered a one-week mini-sabbatical right after someone closes a deal, as recovery time. 

2 – Support staff not taking holiday, then getting sick 

Private equity can be stressful, and support staff are often under huge pressure. Against that backdrop, taking time away from the office to rest and recharge is crucial – but many support staff don’t:

“It’s not worth me taking holiday as I’ll just end up working anyway. My boss will call or email me and it’s more stressful than being in the office”. 

But the result is, many PAs and EAs are overworked to the point it makes them ill. So they have an excessively high sickness record – but they haven’t used their holiday allocation. 

To combat this…

This is a cultural issue. Support staff need to feel time off is time off. That might mean hiring temp cover so PAs and EAs can really switch off. Firms should be conveying that holiday isn’t just nice-to-take – it’s must-take, for your health. 

3 – Not taking sick-time properly off

We heard that more and more people are working from home when they’re unwell, instead of simply calling in sick and giving themselves time to recover. This might seem like a good thing, but it means three or four days working from home instead of one or two fully off sick. That’s a bad thing for firms – because productivity is lower for longer – and for individuals – who never have time to properly recover. 

To combat this…

One company spoke about how they’d increased their wellbeing efforts to include monthly initiatives focussed on different things – like eating healthier, getting more sleep, taking time off. They have regular discussions on managing stress, to help equip their teams with the practical skills to switch off. 

4 – Difficult inter-personal relationships 

One obvious marker that someone’s struggling: they can become unusually short or aggressive, and their ability to collaborate really suffers. The whole team is impacted. 

To combat this…

One company shared the incredibly positive results they’ve had through solidifying their mental health and wellbeing initiatives. Over two years, they’ve now reduced their mental health claims to only 6% - compared to an industry average of 35%. 

The big thing from their perspective has been actively encouraging the conversation around mental health so all their employees feel they can reach out. They also hold regular specialist-led seminars to offer practical mental health coping strategies. 

5 – High absence rates and poor continuity 

One firm talked about their struggle with 3 out of 5 support staff on their team being out at once due to mental health issues. Keeping the team running – and supporting the business effectively – despite these issues has been a real challenge. 

To combat this…

The firm has welcomed expert speakers into the business to talk about managing stress. They’ve also focussed on how they introduce people back into the business following sick leave, reducing hours and offering as much time and support as needed. So when employees come back, they’re more likely to stay back.

The legal perspective on mental health in the workplace

Our guest speaker Greg Jones is a Partner and specialist HR lawyer with Greene & Greene solicitors, so he shared some invaluable information about the legal perspective of mental health. 

Here are the highlights:

  • Equality act. The equality act outlines protected characteristics you can’t discriminate against. Disability is included, and mental health falls under this category because it has long-term effects on health.  
  • Long-term. Legally speaking long-term means a 12-month period or more – but a tribunal can also take long-term to mean ‘will last for a further 12-months’. 
  • Unfair dismissal. If you dismiss an employee due to the mental health disability, then you risk being sued. You’re also at risk if you dismiss an employee based on something related to their performance that’s arguably caused by their disability. For example, even if an employee does something extreme like getting drunk at a client event and badmouthing you, they could claim at tribunal that their mental health issues caused the out of character behaviour. And they’d win. 
  • Discrimination claim. Employees are protected the moment they enter your recruitment process. That means, if they feel that you discriminate based on their disability even at interview, they can sue you. 
  • Claim value. There’s no cap on the amount you could be sued for if someone launches a discrimination claim. Tribunals also take into account the value of feelings, which can cost you another £40k. Unfair dismissal claims are capped at £80K if awarded. 
  • Company and individual liability. Claimants who sue the company can also name individual team members who they feel have particularly contributed to a toxic culture. One claim might then end up with another six or seven people added. 
  • Employment tribunal. As an employer, even if you win a tribunal you won’t recover the costs of your legal fees. That’s why so few cases go through to tribunal.  
  • Proactive responsibility. The onus is on employers to proactively know whether employees are struggling. “I didn’t know, they didn’t tell me” won’t cut it at tribunal unless you took active steps to find out and notice the signs.  
  • Discipline and mental health. If you discipline someone and then they tell you they’re suffering with mental health to excuse their behaviour, you need to show you have a culture which allows an employee to confide and share issues. 
  • Reasonable adjustments. You need to ensure you’ve explored and documented reasonable adjustments to accommodate employees, before you can make a dismissal. That means when an employee shares their mental health struggles, you need to document and consider steps you can take to help them manage it.
  • GDPR. Employees can now submit a Data Subject Access Request under GDPR, which means that the employer has to send all the personal data you have on or about them. That includes CCTV, paper, emails, group WhatsApp messages. If the claimant finds the ‘smoking gun’ email – written in a moment of annoyance by a manager or colleague saying their mental health issues are becoming an issue, for example - they’ll have a case against you. 
  • Focus on key emotional needs. If you implement any new change, you should consider how that will impact employees’ key emotional needs. For instance, how will redundancy impact employees – and how can you show you’ve tried to meet those needs positively? 

The main legal takeaway is, the government is putting lots of pressure on employees to better support employees’ mental health. Firms can get ahead of the curve and protect themselves from risk (and create a happier, more productive workplace!) by implementing mental health strategies before they become mandatory.

Action points: what can we all do better

Train managers to spot mental health issues.

Line managers, not just HR, need to know what mental health issues look like – and how to deal with them positively. Also look at manager-employee relationships. If the relationship with the manager isn’t meaningful and positive, mental health issues might be hidden or exacerbated. 

Train managers to set the example.

If you’re off sick, don’t check your emails. If you’re on holiday, don’t take calls. Make sure change starts from managers, so team members know what’s expected.

Encourage the mental health conversation.

Where leaders in your business have faced mental health issues, get them to tell their story, and become role models for talking about – and coping positively with – mental health.

Be conscious of diversity.

Don’t let popular opinions become a vendetta. For example, if you’re running a meat-free Monday programme, be careful not to be judgemental against others who choose to eat meat. Or vice versa, watch for people being teased for their beliefs like veganism – it might seem harmless, but it causes isolation. Promote awareness of all beliefs. 

Be proactive about wellbeing. 

Wellbeing initiatives like regular yoga sessions, meditation and mindfulness sessions or app subscriptions and mental health/stress seminars are all positives, to raise awareness and show you’re helping employees. 

Include wellbeing in personal development. 

Mental health shouldn’t be the elephant in the room. Include simple wellbeing goals in personal development plans to encourage employees not to neglect their mental health.

Provide internal and external support.  

Appoint a ‘wellness champion’ and/or mental health first aiders, to make sure you’re offering enough internal support. Mental health shouldn’t be a scary HR conversation! Also provide employees with confidential, anonymous access to councillors or psychiatrists in case they prefer to confide in someone externally.

Teach CBT to support team

Consider bringing in a psychotherapist to teach your support team some CBT techniques to help cope with their high functioning but sometimes difficult investment team. 

The overarching takeaway from this brilliant morning was, mental health simply can’t be ignored. Mental health has far-reaching consequences for the individual, their colleagues and the business as a whole. 

Not being proactive about addressing and tackling mental health issues opens businesses up to increased absences, high attrition, plummeting productivity and potential legal action too. The private equity and alternative investments industry needs to tackle mental health issues head-on.