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How you can help lead the future of Mental Health laws in the UK

Author: Richie Perera

Brexit is done, the vaccine is here!

1st January 2021 was an important day for the UK.

We officially left the EU after being a member since 1st January 1973. For most people at working age and the nation as a whole, we are now presented with a new playing field upon which to build an independent economy.

No one can predict where we will be in five or ten years. What we will know in a decade though is, whether it was the right or wrong decision to leave the EU. Only time will tell, and any other form of prediction on the economy is just guesswork - as reliable as Mystic Meg and her crystal ball!

We can be sure that, as a nation, the UK will go on. London is still the world's financial capital, and the UK is still the highest net exporter of financial services.

So let's say we are far from starting back at square one!

Then there was the impact of Covid19 in 2020, which further crippled the economy.

Brexit, plus Covid was a double whammy indeed, but we are still here!

As we start 2021, Brexit is done, the vaccine is here, so now what? Shall we all just get vaccinated and get back to work? That would be wishful, if not a very naive way of thinking!

We are now presented with the most critical decision we will make in a generation for businesses. What we decide will determine not only the length of time it will take the UK to get back on its feet, but also how we work as a nation for generations to come.

We have an opportunity to make a huge change for the better, and it starts with human beings in the workplace.

How we address workplace mental health and wellbeing will be the deciding factor of where we will be in the next decade. The decisions we make now will personally, professionally, financially, and economically determine the UK's next decade.

The legislation that was not reasonably practicable!

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) sets out employers' duties, who must protect the 'health, safety and welfare' at work of all their employees. However, these duties are qualified with the words' so far as is reasonably practicable'.

Those words' so far as is reasonably practicable' has been a tragedy for this Act, coinciding with the fact that there was no emphasis on mental health when talking about "health" within the Act. Traditionally, employers focused on physical health and safety but didn't emphasise issues affecting mental health such as work-related stress.

Even as updates to the Act came, and there have been several, the government made only recommendations regarding employees' mental health in the workplace. At the same time, First Aid At Work became a legal obligation. Forty-six years later, we are now seeing the consequences of 'so far as is reasonably practicable' and some employers are still firmly stuck in that rut.

Nonetheless, a new law is imminent, and it's called Mental Health First Aid At Work!

Signing the petition and the pledge will make this process even faster for 2021, and you can help by signing it here:

Thank you, COVID!

However, there's another vital point that must be mentioned: be under no illusion that all the mental health issues that are rapidly coming to light at the moment are due solely to Brexit and Covid. These issues were always there; Brexit and Covid only forced us to acknowledge them.

Covid and the situations that came with it such as lockdowns and job losses, single-handedly did more to get the conversation on mental health flowing in the UK then the whole mental health community had been able to do in decades.

So where do we go from here?

Now the vaccine is here too, as we proceed with 2021, a lot of us will be going back to places of work or will remain working from home. Both brings its own set of mental health challenges that need to be addressed. There is now a mountain of evidence directly linking how a mentally-healthy workforce impacts the organisation's bottom line, growth, and culture.

There is no need to push that agenda - businesses either get it or they don't!

The big question: What will employers do?

The decision to prioritise workplace mental health and how to nurture it has already been made for us here in the UK, simply by the available data.

Any CEO, HR Manager/Department and business owner worth their salt will see that.

Employers looking to cut corners, not taking mental seriously, could find themselves in the weeds and heading towards liquidation over the next few years. They will be stuck with severe internal issues due to low staff retention rates, aka the arch-enemy of workplace culture and happiness. I say good riddance, as those employers do not represent what needs to happen for the future of UK business.

They will lose valuable staff to other organisations that have a healthy wellbeing practice and waste money training staff who will not stay long term. Those organisations that understand that workplace mental health and wellbeing is the be-all and end-all for a sustainable future will be the winners in the next few years.

The New Role of HR

2021 will see the biggest shift in HR strategies there has ever been. HR traditionally focuses on the usual that has been the same for decades.

· Recruitment and Hiring.

· Training and Development.

· Employer-Employee Relations.

· Maintain Company Culture.

· Manage Employee Benefits.

· Create a Safe Work Environment.

· Handle Disciplinary Actions.

All of these will still exist, but the whole structure will need to be built upon a mental health and wellbeing foundation. All of the above will have to be a branch leading off that foundation.

Has the time come to rename HR and call it The Wellbeing Department?

HR departments will have one of the biggest roles to play in the new UK's future, notice I say the UK and not organisation - I'll tell you why.

We spend most of our working day at work; this means our working life impacts all aspects of our life.

If, as a nation, we can get mental health and wellbeing at work right, this will naturally extend to the mental health and wellbeing of the country on our personal lives.

Humans are creatures of their environment and, naturally, the environment we spend the longest time in will always have the most significant impact on us. Traditionally, HR supports a business to deliver people-related processes, vision and strategy across the company, aligned with the law.

In 2021 HR has a new role; they have a responsibility to support the economy to deliver people-related processes, vision, and strategy to benefit the nation!

Are organisations and HR ready for this new role and responsibility they have?

Are they even aware?

Will the CEO's, business owners and shareholders support them if they are?

Do they even have a choice?

I guess only time will tell!


About the author

Richie Perera is the Founder of Mental Health and Life and is passionate about mental health in the workplace. He's a strong believer that if we can get mental health right at work it will impact all other parts of our lives.

Richie has fifteen years experience as an Award Winning Company Director and Business Consultant, he is also an Expert Industry Consultant at Guidepoint Global, and is Chair of Judging Panel - International Business Excellence Awards (IBX) Dubai

Richie's accolades include:

Investors in People - Peoples Manager of the Year 2018 Named and voted for by Investors in People As A Leader In HR and People Management Practice Globally Mental Health First Aid Instructor - NUCO & MHFA England


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