Mental health in manufacturing

  Thursday, 08 October 2020 11:58
Jo Cloute, human resources (HR) and customer service manager, Focus SB. Jo Cloute, human resources (HR) and customer service manager, Focus SB.

As we see a rise in mental health issues, highlighted by the detrimental impact of the coronavirus pandemic on many peoples’ lives and livelihoods over recent months, campaigns throughout the year continue to keep this important aspect of our health in the public eye. On the advent of World Mental Health Day on 10th October Focus SB’s HR and customer service manager, Jo Cloute shares with us the importance of supporting our colleagues, family and friends, and the challenges in recognising the signs of mental health issues in the workplace.

What are the challenges you have faced as a mental health first aider?
Even though you are trained it can never prepare you for all situations, the human state of mind is so complex and you are unable to give medical advice because you are not a doctor. All you can do is guide people to the right services, support them in the workplace, understand their condition and aid their recovery.

How difficult is it to identify mental health issues in the workplace?
It can be very difficult as most people try to hide that they are struggling, they often see it as a sign of weakness or hope it will get better on its own.

With employees using machinery and safety paramount, what are the main difficulties you face when it comes to averting potential accidents on the factory floor?
Regarding employees and machinery, as we work in a very friendly environment we rely on colleagues to notice someone with a problem and report any concerns.

What are the most common signs there may be a problem?
I have found in the past that it is not always easy to notice if someone is experiencing mental health issues but I do try and look for indicators, this can be something small like being late for work a few times a week or an increase in absence so I analyse this on a regular basis. Managers always carry out a return to work interview and employees are encouraged to talk to us if they are experiencing any issues or worries.

But sadly some employees find it hard to open up at meetings and that is why if I have any concerns then I try and speak to their colleagues or friends at work, to see if they have noticed anything wrong such as appearing very nervous, anxious, perhaps not coping with workloads, also their personality may have changed dramatically.

Do employees feel they can come forward, or do you need to make the first approach if you think somebody may need support?
Yes, I believe they do, my door is always open. We have done extensive training regarding mental health with all our managers and this has given them the tools to help and support their staff.

Is it always obvious when there’s a mental health issue?
No, sadly not always.

Describe how Focus SB supports employees with their mental health.
First of all I assess why they are experiencing problems so I can guide them to the correct services. If it is work related then we can take a number of measures. I look at their work life balance, their workload, and if they are being harassed or bullied.

If it is something in their personal life then I have wealth of knowledge on different services from bereavement, stress management, different counselling services, mindfulness courses, debt management and helpful websites.

"We have done extensive training regarding mental health with all our managers and this has given them the tools to help and support their staff."

Have you had to support employees prior to or during the current pandemic?
Yes on a number of occasions.

How do you look after your own mental health?
I am one of those very lucky people that always looks on the bright side, simple things make me happy. Even if I have had a bad day I get home and always find something positive to raise my spirits. I love pottering around my garden, long walks, entertaining with friends and family and best of all just being with my husband and sons, every day should be treasured.

Focus SB worked with a reduced staffing level throughout lockdown earlier this year, how well did employees adapt?
On the whole employees adapted very well, I think communication was key to our success. Our managing director Gary Stevens sent out weekly updates, we opened a company Facebook group where employees could post fun things they were doing, and we all had meetings online via Google Meet.

Some days were harder than others. Furloughed employees were worried about their jobs, employees that were working sometimes felt hard done by as they were working extra hard without any holiday and saw furloughed employees as having fun in the sun, but we all pulled together and have come out the other side a lot stronger. 

What were the main issues experienced by staff who’ve never worked remotely before?
At first the technology was tricky and people felt a bit isolated so we purchased new equipment, set up WhatsApp groups, and managers phoned employees on a regular basis. For most employees I think that the experience has been very good, their work life balance has improved, work productivity has gone up, and for some employees it has worked so well they will stay at home.

Have you seen an increase in mental health related illness since the pandemic?
I can honestly say no and I think this is due to the positive way we have adapted. 

How will you continue to support employees as the current situation remains unpredictable?
All we can do is take every day as it comes.

The following links provide information about the World Health Organisation and the UK’s Mental Health Awareness Week set up by the Mental Health Foundation.

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