A major 18-month pilot project carried out by a global engineering company, aimed at finding solutions to the growing problem of mental health in the workplace, is said to have produced 'astonishing' results in terms of performance, worker happiness, and staff retention.
With the issue of mental health and wellbeing shooting up employers’ agenda, the GENIUS project, developed by talent services business Ford & Stanley and conducted in conjunction with Sandvik focused on de-stigmatising the issues of mental health and wellbeing by introducing the confidential support service under the heading of general performance improvement coaching, whilst employing multi-skilled practitioners who are skilled at resolving the root causes of mental wellbeing, confidence and performance issues to deliver the service.
Research has proven that up to 80% of employees suffer in silence rather than report mental health issues, due to fear of being perceived by their employer or colleagues negatively. The way GENIUS was delivered led to increased take up and staff using the service through peer referrals, without the pressure of needing to be referred by Human Resources.
Born from over three decades of front-line experience and research started in 2009, when proof of the impact of stress in the workplace was first emerging, Ford & Stanley experts assessed not just reasons for absenteeism, but also the new concept of 'presenteeism' – where staff are at work but not performing well.
The research and development - involving mental health and performance specialists, plus senior managers in business, finance, operations, HR and Health and Safety, suggested that the vast majority of the makeup of most organisational health and safety procedures centered on safety, with very little focusing on mental health.
Companies with mental health policies often frightened people away with procedure or referred them to services which did not meet their needs, often telephone-led or prescriptive services.
That initial research led to the development of the 18-month pilot project at Sandvik’s Derbyshire and Northern Ireland plants in 2012/13. Multi-skilled practitioners, trained in a range of services including CBT, psychotherapy, stress management, performance coaching and workplace mentoring, were made readily available onsite.
Peter Schofield, chairman of Ford & Stanley, said: "One of the issues our research kept coming back to was that many of the one-size-fits-all, off the shelf help packages being offered just weren’t relevant to the individual’s needs and actually alienated the further at a time when they were already vulnerable.
"A key success of this is providing something unique – developing a team of established, multi-skilled professionals who are non-prescriptive and will wait to talk to and see what the person’s needs are before deciding how best to help them. And because they are trained in a range of skills and, critically, have the ‘life skills’ to ensure credibility, they have a virtual toolbox at hand they can use to find the right solution.
"The other major success was to make the service easily accessible for employees and to not to brand it purely as a mental health service. This meant that rather than being driven top down from management as a referral scheme by HR, word spread quickly around the shopfloor and office staff, which meant people felt a lot more comfortable about using the service.
"It just grew organically and even morphed into being used by the company’s high fliers who weren’t experiencing trouble per se, but just wanted some performance coaching to become even better and develop their careers. The overwhelming message from Sandvik employees was that it completely backed up the company’s claims of being a caring employer; because they saw evidence of it right down at their own unique part of a global organisation.”
Ford & Stanley’s GENIUS practitioners carried out on average four one-hour sessions with individuals seeking help for a variety of reasons effecting their performance, attendance, focus at work and general sense of happiness and mental wellbeing.
Steve Powell, senior HR business partner for Sandvik, said: "This is about the wellbeing of our employees, feeling better about themselves and what they do and if they do that they can perform better. In all of my time in HR I have never seen anything that fulfils that (employer) responsibility more, and the payback has been tenfold in terms of the impact on the business.
"I could identify individuals who would certainly not be in the business if we had not have done this, and then you have to consider the cost associated with the lost knowledge and the recruitment of replacements. Several said they had felt suicidal but this service had turned their life around, at work and at home.
"But it is also about the improvement in performance, the activity of the people, and input, which is what we have seen. They’re far more motivated to give input and come up with ideas and generally be better at what they are doing because so much more is settled in their lives.”
Schofield added: "If you ask employers what their primary concerns are for this year and beyond, the majority will cite skills shortages and the health and safety of their staff. The evidence and message this pilot sends to employers is clear; provide employees with the right kind of support and the organisation will produce more, save more, and greatly enhance its reputation as a responsible employer. Fail to act and you’ll get the exact opposite.”