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Ed Sweeney

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Be aware of mental health in 2010, says Acas


Ed Sweeney, Acas Chair, considers the impact the recession has had on business and employees and what HR should focus on next year to avoid legal implications.

2009 has been a challenging year for businesses and employees. For many managers, this is the first time that they have encountered such challenging economic conditions. As a result, we have seen rising unemployment figures throughout the year.

Many businesses have had to cope with situations that they have never dealt with before and have been faced with making some difficult decisions. Despite this, we have seen a lot of businesses doing their best to avoid making job cuts and find alternatives, which will put them in a strong position in the longer term.

More than ever, businesses have been required to look at their management skills in difficult times, the importance of employee engagement during a downturn, the key role of skills through recession and developing skills in the workplace to maintain morale through the tough times.

As a result of the recession, business and managers need to anticipate and manage longer-term effects such as mental health problems in the workplace. Organisations can find it difficult to measure the impact of the recession on employees’ mental wellbeing, especially as the stigma associated with mental health creates barriers to measuring the true extent of the problem.

Figures show that mental health problems cost UK organisations around £26 billion each year, so we are encouraging organisations to deal with mental health issues in the workplace as early as possible. Using a ‘prevention over cure’ approach will ultimately help businesses and employees save time, stress and money. 

Hopefully we have seen the worst of the downturn, but the impact on businesses will be felt far into the future, particularly in the public sector where there will be a longer-lasting effect. Businesses and managers alike need to anticipate and prepare for the repercussions of the recession and implement policies and procedures to help manage health and wellbeing in the workplace efficiently.

Aside from the impact of the recession, one of the big success stories from this year has been Acas’ Pre-Claim Conciliation (PCC) service. The service has helped more than 2,000 businesses to avoid employment tribunal claims since it was introduced in April this year. Recently, the service was extended to include all types of employment tribunal claim. Acas has also expanded its helpline to ensure impartial information on employment relations issues is more readily available to employers and employees.

The PCC service has already helped businesses save a great deal of money and has encouraged better communication and relationships within the workforce, which in return makes employees happier and more productive. As time goes on, we hope that managers, HR professionals and employees will become further accustomed to resolving workplace disputes internally.

Next year, the wider health, work and wellbeing agenda will be even more relevant with the introduction of the ‘fit note’. We already have an increased focus on issues such as mental health in the workplace. Healthy workplaces are essential for good employment relations and productive organisations and this is an issue we think will become increasingly important over the coming years.

Ed Sweeney is Chair at Acas.


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