UK employers take action to end mental health stigma on World Mental Health Day



Alison Atack

Law firms and other employers have taken action to tackle mental health stigma as part of World Mental Health Day today.

ScotRail, Apex Hotels, engineering company Babcock and Burness Paull LLP have joined together with the See Me programme, to highlight the potential impact of mental health stigma and discrimination in work and ensure staff feel supported when they are struggling.

The organisations, which employ more than 8,000 people between them, are working with the programme on a range of areas, including reducing absenteeism and presenteeism relating to mental health and promoting their role as a responsible, inclusive and caring employer.

All four have signed up to an eight-month process with See Me, to analyse their policies and practices in relation to mental health, to challenge discrimination and improve the working lives of employees with mental health problems.

See Me, the national programme to end mental health discrimination, conducted a survey of Scottish workers in 2015, which found that 48 per cent of people think that someone in their work with a mental health problem would be unlikely to disclose for fear of losing their job.

They also found 55 per cent of people think that someone in their work with a mental health problem would be unlikely to disclose for fear of being moved to another post of passed over for promotion.

For World Mental Health day the organisations have put on a range of activity to encourage their employees to talk about mental health.

Tamar Tammes, managing partner at Burness Paull, said: “We are delighted that See Me has invited Burness Paull and other major employers in Scotland to help highlight the potential impact of mental health stigma and discrimination in the workplace. We are proud to play our part in making that happen.  

“We are committed to helping and supporting everyone in the firm to improve their working lives and to ensuring staff feel supported when they’re struggling. That is why we’re very much looking forward to working with See Me, sharing our experiences and learning from the other employers involved.”

Alison Atack, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “I’m very pleased to see that one of our law firms is among the group of leading employers taking part in the See Me programme.

“Many solicitors are drawn to the intellectual challenge and thrive on the high pressure that a legal career entails, but with this high pressure can come stress. We know that one in five solicitors experience a mental health issue at some stage in their career, so it’s crucial that we all work to remove any stigma and discrimination and ensure that people can find help when they need it.”

Separately, eight UK law firms and three banks have joined together in an alliance to change avoidable working practices that can cause mental health and wellbeing issues for employees.

The Mindful Business Charter, developed by Barclays alongside Pinsent Masons and Addleshaw Goddard, is the first time banks and their legal services providers have come together to reach a shared agenda for supporting mental health and wellbeing.

A signing event on World Mental Health Day today marks a first step in adopting the charter by Lloyds Banking Group, NatWest and law firms Ashurst, Baker McKenzie, Clifford Chance, Eversheds Sutherland, Hogan Lovells and Simmons & Simmons.

All of the signatories have committed to a set of principles centred on improved communication, respect for rest periods and considerate delegation of tasks. Performance against these principles will be monitored as part of relationship review meetings.

Richard Foley, senior partner of Pinsent Masons, which employs more than 500 staff in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, added: “Professional advisers are often in a position of privilege, so it is easy to underestimate or overlook the impact of the work they do on their wellbeing. 

“Mental health issues impact people at all levels and in all sectors. Changing working practices have increased those pressures significantly. It is not good enough to just accept that as the price we have to pay. We have a responsibility to make changes.”