By Steve Mason, Senior Consultant at Blackmores UK.

Mental health is a growing issue in today’s society and has only in the past few years started to emerge from the shadows as a subject that can be talked about, but we have a long way to go before the stigma surrounding mental health has been removed completely. As World Mental Health Day 2020 is coming up shortly on 10th October, this article takes a look at how management standards can be used to support businesses when considering mental health issues.

It is recognised that 1 in 6 of the population will experience a mental health problem, usually related to anxiety and depression; much of which is triggered by the lifestyles we live or have been foisted upon us through other’s expectations of what we should be; who we should be; how we should behave; or simply by being dismissive of our existence.

Mental health relates to how we think, feel and behave, and it is not unusual for the root cause of anxiety and depression to be the workplace, influenced by the environment, team structure, peer pressure, and oppressive regimes resulting in bullying. Whilst employees suffer from anxiety and depression in the workplace, we cannot escape the fact that it will certainly impact productivity.

Whether work is the cause or not, having a fulfilling job can improve your mental health and general wellbeing. Statistics relating to the impact of mental health issues on business have been put forward by several organisations, including the NHS; the Mental Health Foundation and Mental Health First Aid England; therefore, I will not repeat them in my article unless they are pertinent to the subject. The purpose of this commentary is, rather, to see how the use of standards can help businesses manage the potential causes of mental health issues.

The Government report Thriving at Work, recommended the following in 2017:

  1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan.
  2. Develop mental health awareness among employees.
  3. Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling.
  4. Provide your employees with good working conditions.
  5. Promote effective people management.
  6. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.

How do the management standards address wellbeing?

It may be assumed that ISO 45001, Occupational Health and Safety management system, just focuses on physical aspects, such as tripping hazards and manual handling. However, more can be gained from this standard if it is used as starting point to enable businesses to incorporate employee wellbeing into their management system.

The standard helps to identify the needs, expectations and hazards of interested parties, which would include employees, and it is here that an organisation’s management can use the standard to identify the need for mental health support which can also be included within your Hazard Assessment. Consideration should be given to whether the workplace is a stressful or challenging environment. How does this affect employees and how can management help?

From here, management can then set objectives related to reducing the stress inducing environment and plan how to achieve these proposed objectives, allowing an opportunity to put the controls in place to eliminate or reduce the impact of these hazards on mental health.

Similarly, ISO 9001, Quality Management System, also takes employee wellbeing into consideration. Like the health and safety standard, there is provision for identifying the needs and expectations of interested parties, but there is also clause 7.1.4 Environment for the operation of processes which includes the following notes:

a) social (e.g. non-discriminatory, calm, non-confrontational); and
b) psychological (e.g. stress-reducing, burnout prevention, emotionally protective).

If I had a criticism of this standard, it would be that this requirement is not explicit enough and it remains a footnote where there is a tendency to ignore or overlook it.

However, if management use this standard again as the starting point, a springboard to tackling mental health issues, the lives of employees and the experience of the workplace could be enhanced and enriched.

Perhaps in the new revision of this standard we might see this section growing more teeth to enable businesses to tackle the issues of mental health more effectively.

Both ISO 45001 and ISO 9001 might currently benefit from drawing from other standards which set down useful principles for organisations to adopt when addressing mental health issues; these include ISO 10075, Ergonomic principles related to mental workload, and ISO 27500:2016, The Human Centered Organisation.

ISO 10075 provides system design guidelines specifically intended to prevent mental overload. Mental stress can result from many different and interacting factors including the requirements of the task, the physical conditions of the job, social and organizational factors or societal factors. The idea behind the ISO 10075 series of standards is to help design systems that prevent mental strain.

ISO 27500 describes the values and beliefs that make an organisation human-centered, the significant business benefits that can be achieved, and explains the risks for the organisation of not being human-centered. It provides recommendations for the policies that executive board members would need to implement in order to achieve this. It sets out high-level human-centered principles for executive board members to endorse to optimize performance, minimize risks to organisations and individuals, maximize well-being in their organisation, and enhance their relationships with their customers.

Irrespective of whether we use management system standards, there is an imperative for all organisations, all management and all employees to be open to understanding, and to being supported in their mental health so that it does not become an issue.

Remember, the benefits of addressing wellbeing:

• It improves employee satisfaction and retention.
• It reduces the number of employee sick days.
• It increases productivity.
• It boosts a company’s profitability, resilience and reputation.
• It improves customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Surely, these are objectives that all businesses would want to achieve, and if so then their management systems can be the ideal framework from which to implement this.

Steve Mason is an experienced Senior Consultant at Blackmores UK. With almost 40 years’ experience, he has a 100% success rate of supporting clients to achieve certification to ISO 9001 and ISO 27001 first time. He takes a pragmatic view towards implementation to ensure that companies get the best from the benefits that they bring and he believes strongly in a simplistic yet effective approach to applying management systems where policies and processes are for the benefit of the whole business at every level.


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