Mental health (MH) parity of esteem, an investigation into MH and wellbeing strategies in workplaces across Northern Ireland.
Good MH can be described as ‘a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community’ (World Health Organization, 2001).
There has been increasing research into the subject of mental wellbeing (MW), research from the Stevenson Farmer review in 2017 showed that people with who suffer from MH conditions employment increased by 200,000 in one year (Stevenson, 2017). Whilst individual’s MH will naturally fluctuate workplaces can impact hugely on their employees, either by supporting good MH and promoting wellbeing or triggering problems that subsequently exasperate poor MH (CIPD, 2018). Given that poor MH affects one in four people, it is no surprise that workplaces are becoming more aware of the economic consequences should they fail to provide efficient support for their employees. Furthermore, Northern Ireland was highlighted as having the highest rate of employees who were stressed at work (85%) combined with the lowest figure in the UK (29%) of workplace support for MH (HSENI, 2019). Research detailed the economic costs to workplaces included reduced participation, efficiency and the diminished ability to work (Dewa and McDaid, 2011), despite this, many workplaces including my own RLC UK, currently have no MH and wellbeing strategies in place.
Established in 1955 RLC Group is a privately-owned precision engineering company that employs over 1000 staff across 5 sites, 2 of which are based in Northern Ireland. RLC manufacture a variety of aerospace products across a global customer base including both civil and military sides of the business. Sales across the 5 sites are over 140 million per year. The RLC vision is to be an organisation that attracts talented people who want to learn and develop within state-of-the-art facilities. RLC is known to have high standards particularly in Quality where they are highly accredited not withstanding providing a first-class service to their customers and suppliers (RLC, 2019).
Research Hypothesis, Aims and Objective
This research will explore the topic of MH and wellbeing and critically analysis strategies across 3 workplaces in Northern Ireland and whether the implementation of these strategies have benefitted the employees and in turn their organisation. The workplaces represented will be from both the public and manufacturing sectors.
Additionally, the research objectives of this investigation are as follow:
- To critically analyse how poor MH effects employees and subsequently their organisation.
- To investigate implemented MH and wellbeing strategies.
- To investigate what effect MH and wellbeing strategies have had on employees and the organisation.
- To design and implement a MH and wellbeing strategy for RLC.
In order to explore this further the next section of this proposal will review prevailing literature of MH from a workplace bias and wellbeing strategies whilst section three will set out the proposed design and methodology of how this research will be undertaken.
The following literature review will support with developing a greater understanding of MH in the workplace from the viewpoint of academic experts and will end with a discussion of MH strategies aimed at increasing employee wellbeing.
Mental health within the workplace
Workplaces are now widely accepted to be one of the significant environments that affects MW and health (Burton and World Health Organization, 2010) and there is mounting evidence signifying that employee wellbeing at work can help advance physical and MH whilst enhancing opportunities for engagement and efficiency (Cvenkel, 2019). Furthermore, most people living with MH issues can indeed contribute to an organisation (Evans & Reeper, 2000) and want to be in employment (Mechanic et al., 2002). MH and wellbeing it is said to be improved by work, a review of studies by Waddell and Burton’s (2006) on employment and wellbeing found that having paid employment remained largely positive for wellbeing both physically and psychologically. Unemployment damages people’s health and wellbeing and although not often viewed in this way, it should be thought about as a public health problem. Workplaces have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace for the wellbeing of their employees (Schulte et al., 2015).
Research also suggests that MH can be enhanced by work, studies show that 1.5 million people in employment diagnosed with mental ill health struggle to retain their jobs, this is twice the amount of those who do not have MH conditions. Furthermore, in a recent report only 10% of employees said they would open up to their managers regarding MH struggles, whilst 50% of employees would not consider talking about their MW with their manager (Stevenson, 2017). Whilst in Northern Ireland a recent review of MH policies called for the government to make Parity a Reality (Heenan and O'Neill, 2019) given that the provision for health services is a devolved matter and the collapse of the NI Assembly, we remain the only region in the UK with no predominant MH framework.
It is clear that whilst there has been much progress and exploration in this area, there is still additional exploration needed to develop a greater understanding of workplace MH for both individuals and employers, indeed managers' understanding and acceptance of the rifeness of MH conditions and understand how to better support employees as organisational life has failed to in the past (Schott, 1999). Symptomatic of the lack of implemented strategies the CIPD will be running training workshops in 2020 for organisations who need to explore options for creating, developing and sustaining wellbeing strategies that will support their organisations (CIPD 2019).
Mental health and wellbeing strategies
Employees will not respond positively to MH and wellbeing initiatives if they are suspicious and consider them to be an excuse to make them work harder. Therefore, promoting the right values in the workplace is important (Stevenson, 2017). An emerging trend is the use of digital apps and online tools for wellbeing that can be tailored depending on the business need, resilience training delivered online showed a trend toward increased resilience and emotional flexibility (Joyce et al., 2018). Further research suggests that digital wellbeing programs have the potential to serve as cost-effective ways to manage workplace stress and wellbeing (Glance et al., 2016). Whilst recent research states the ideal digital interference for MH is a website with a combination of support methods and e-coaching (Carolan and de Visser, 2018).
Employee Assistance programs EAP
(Berridge and Cooper, 1994) define employee assistance programs as “a programmatic intervention at the workplace, with the objective of enabling the individual to return to her or his full work.” EAPs have an extensive history of providing crucial workplace amenities (Daniels et al., 2005) and are rapidly emerging into workplace strategies, creating more holistic workplaces (Kirk and Brown, 2003). Furthermore, a large survey of over 4,000 employees with access to EAP support assistance showed that therapy had a constructive effect on employees. The results showed an increased satisfaction from under 10% to 57% of employees’ personal lives before therapy and afterwards (Anon.2011).
Mental health first aid training (MHFA)
MH first aid training originated in Australia in 2001 and research showed overall changes in knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of those who completed the training in both workplaces and daily life (Kitchener and Jorm, 2008)During a trial scheme to provide awareness and understanding of MH for those in leadership positions participants described feeling better placed in supporting their employees in the future with mental ill health, moreover, the MHFA training can have encouraging consequences for good MH (Weston et al., 2019). Furthermore, with significant investment in England of £15 million an initiative was launched by the government in 2018 aimed at providing 1 million people with basic skills to support and treat people with mental ill health, such investment demonstrates the importance of MHFA. The campaign will give people advice and build resilience based on what has been shown to work, enabling trainees to better supporting people experiencing poor MH (Anon.2017).
Gaps in the literature
Research into organisations with wellbeing strategies in place found that whilst employees had indeed reduced their stress levels, they could find no direct link between having a strategy in place and better employee wellbeing (Zheng et al., 2015). Furthermore research into HRM practice and policies found that whilst they can support employee wellbeing, it is in fact the relationships with managers that has the greater link of its promotion (Renee Baptiste, 2008). Furthermore, research into the use of EAPs with field-based employees in different locations found that employees perceived access was inconvenient and unclear due to the physical separation(Smith, 2019). To conquer, a wide range of workplace MH initiatives are merely strategic partners of health and wellbeing promotion (Attridge, 2019) This research will investigate further what effect MH and wellbeing strategies have had on employees and their organisations.
Research approach and design
This research will investigate MH and wellbeing strategies across 3 different workplaces in Northern Ireland to gain an understanding of how the strategies have benefitted the employees and in turn the organisations.
(Kumar, 2019) describes approaching research as a way of thinking and not just a set of skills, rather a cycle of systematic thinking and the application of learned techniques to enable the research question to be answered properly. Researchers can be positivist scientifically, analysing quantitative measurable data whist interpretivists gather data through qualitative methods such as interviews and emphasis individuals’ perceptions (Valerie Anderson, 2013).
Saunders (2019) research ‘onion’ outlines the importance of how data is collected whilst the various surrounding layers act as the framework for the research process, each layer demonstrats the limitations or strengths of various analysis and data collection techniques (Saunders et al., 2019). Furthermore, I will use this model as a basis for the research design. The research will reflect the philosophy of pragmatism using multiple sources to best answer the research question. The approach will be inductive by collecting and analysing data and letting patterns emerge to build upon a theory. The data collection technique will be mixed methods using both qualitative and quantitative means. The research strategy will use both case study and survey methods, cross sectional at a single point in time and the data will be collected and analysed.
Figure 1. The research ‘onion’ (Saunders et al., 2019)
Data Collection and analysis
This research will consist of mixed methods, the primary qualitative research will be carried out as case studies by conducting interviews with 3 different companies in Northern Ireland whilst the secondary quantitative research will be gathered using MHFA training evaluation survey results carried out by the Public Health Agency of Northern Ireland on behalf of RLC. The mixed methods of triangulation approach will provide improved outcomes as data will be cross verified from different sources(Valerie Anderson, 2013).
The form of data collection for this research is case studies, using Pattons (1990) strategy for Intensity sampling “information-rich cases that manifest the phenomenon intensely.” Furthermore, the 3 companies in Northern Ireland selected for this research have recently been recognised for their employee health and wellbeing strategies.
- Company One- Winner of the CIPD Best Health and Wellbeing Initiative 2019
- Company Two- Highly commended CIPD Best Health and Wellbeing Initiative 2019
- Company Three- Recommended by the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland as having best practice for MH and Wellbeing.
Prior to the primary research being gathered from face to face interviews, a provisional study of the interview arrangements and questions will be reviewed and modified as appropriate (Bell et al., 2018). Whilst some disadvantages of this method are time constraints and concerns over the lack of standardisation, the researcher has selected interviews as the conversation should allow an in-depth discussion into the topic and obtain the evidence required to answer the research objectives (Cohen et al., 1994). Whist remaining flexible and putting the informants at ease an interview guide will be created to allow for an introduction, the key and more probing questions and not only support the researcher to stay on track but improve validity as the same format will be used for each interview. The interviews will be semi structured, one of the most popular methods for qualitive researchers (Holloway, (2010).
Given that most research questions are answered with both secondary and primary data (Lewis and Thornhill, 2012) the secondary data that will be used is an ad hoc survey that was completed internally after 13 members of staff finished the accredited MHFA training delivered by the Public Health Agency Northern Ireland and was presented in an aggregated report. The advantage of using the secondary survey data is that there was a 100% participation rate, furthermore as HR Manager for RLC in a standalone capacity this will reduce time, is cost effective and will reduce scope creep on the project plan as the information is already available. Whilst Adams et al (2014) questioned the validity of secondary data and the relevance to the research question using the triangulation approach as described above will protect the integrity of the data.
Ethics is a critical part of successful research (Saunders et al., 2019) regardless whether the data collected is primary, secondary, qualitative or qualitative. Furthermore, it is prudent to be aware that ethical lines may become blurred when completing internal research and practicing HR (Maxwell and Beattie, 2004). A detailed description of the research information sheet will be available explaining why the data is being collected and what it will be used for Appendix B and C. All individuals will sign a consent form prior to gathering the primary and secondary data with confidentiality and anonymity being protected.
Northern Ireland has the greatest rate of MH issues in the UK , 25% more than England (Heenan and O'Neill, 2019) costing employers on average 42 billion pounds annually (Stevenson, 2017). Having no MH and wellbeing strategy in place poses a significant risk to RLC financially notwithstanding the human cost as suicide rates in Northern Ireland remain the highest in the UK.
It is intended that the findings of this investigation will be presented to the CEO and RLC Board and the ensuing MH and wellbeing strategy will be implemented across all 5 sites.
Writing requires structure (Saunders et al., 2019) this research piece will the longest piece of work that I have written to date. Therefore, Appendix A provides a detailed timetable that will be used to keep me on track. The timetable will be reviewed regularly and updated at each stage when needed.