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Who owns my wellbeing – me, my manager or my organisation?

Girl being thrown water over

Most of us spend most of our waking hours at work, so of course we all want to work somewhere that has a great culture, where we feel valued and protected.

Employers are being asked to step up and take responsibility for mental and emotional wellbeing. Proposed new legislation requires employers to provide training and monitor employees’ mental health.

Does making this a legal requirement mean that I no longer have ownership of my mental wellbeing? Can I rely on my employer to look out for risk factors, monitor my mental health and provide support?

What are the changes?

The proposed changes to the Equality Act 2010 would make employers responsible for identifying and helping employees with workplace mental health challenges. Under health and safety law, employers would have to provide training to help employees deal with mental ill-health.

In 2017 the Thriving at Work review found that 15 per cent of people in work showed symptoms of an existing mental health problem. Research by Deloitte found poor mental health cost the UK economy between £74 billion and £99 billion a year.

Some of the 40 recommendations set out in the review were six core mental health standards for employers, including implementing a mental health at work plan, developing mental health awareness, encouraging conversations about mental health, improved working conditions and monitoring employee mental health and wellbeing.

However, this shouldn’t mean that employees don’t have to take responsibility too. The person most impacted by my wellbeing is me. I can’t outsource that.

Taking responsibility for my own wellbeing

Although the employer has a duty of care, and shouldn’t be making unreasonable demands – whether that’s working hours, workload, or the nature of requests – the individual has to meet them in the middle. I need to look after myself and take responsibility for my own health.

If I’m burning the midnight oil because work expects me to finish projects to unrealistic deadlines and this makes me ill, that’s one thing. But if I’m going out late every night drinking and staggering into work the next day hungover, that’s another. I won’t be performing effectively and I’ve brought this on myself.

Also, I worry that expecting line managers to spot symptoms of mental distress places an unfair burden on them. We don’t expect managers to diagnose and treat physical illness – other than spotting if someone is working when they should be at home tucked up in bed with hot honey and lemon. If this new legislation imposes an expectation on managers to diagnose – and even treat – mental or emotional distress – it can only make matters worse.

We are not children. We need to step up and be accountable for our own health. That means admitting when we have a problem. I know this can be hard, but if I’m suffering from a long-term mental health condition, or if workplace conditions are causing undue anxiety and stress, it’s on me to call it out. It’s my responsibility to refer myself for professional help and to inform work of steps that have been put in place. It’s up to me to speak to HR or my line manager if I’m not coping with my workload or working conditions. I can’t expect them to sort it out if I don’t ask for help.

A Whole Person duty of care

In Oasis we take a Whole Person approach to work and wellbeing. We acknowledge that you can’t leave your problems at the door when you come to work, and they will have an effect on your relationships with others and your work.

Is it possible to create a duty of care that isn’t based on a legal framework or that puts all the responsibility with the employer, but that acknowledges a Whole Person approach?

Some ways you can take control of your wellbeing and remain empowered include:

  • Take an active approach – don’t blame others, expect others to sort things out for you, or wait for the problem to go away.
  • Look after yourself on a daily basis, with a good routine of balanced eating and sleeping.
  • Surround yourself with positive people who will support you without trying to solve your problems for you.
  • Do things you enjoy – get active!
  • Be kind to yourself when you are feeling tired or run-down. Don’t try to over do it, or even to do what you would normally do, at these times. Cut yourself some slack.
  • Try to spot negative thought patterns. Once you’ve noticed a pattern, it’s easier to spot negative thoughts earlier and nip them in the bud.