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Mental health in the workplace

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Winifred Robinson | 14:25 PM, Wednesday, 2 June 2010

blurred_traders_303.jpgThe day at You and Yours starts with an 8am meeting where ideas are chewed over. Sometimes we apply the 'Tell me something I didn't already know' test - does the item reveal anything much?
Recently we've been reflecting how the MIND campaign tries to persuade employers to offer better support for people with mental illness. I have seen the damage mental illness can do to career prospects through a close relative who has bipolar disorder. Her regular, sometimes long absences from work were tolerated by the Littlewoods organisation. It was a family firm started in Liverpool by John Moores and it always had high ethical standards, long before it was fashionable. When my relative took voluntary redundancy from the pools arm of the firm she never found another job.
Which brings me back to things I didn't know. I'd always thought that companies who supported people with mental illnesses - by allowing them time off to get better, altering shift patterns, perhaps moving them to different roles - were motivated by altruism. They may well be but what I learned from the You and Yours discussion featuring two employers - the NHS and a small retail co-operative in Somerset - was that supporting people who are mentally ill can save money. In the case of the co-op, three workers on long term sick leave through mental ill health were approached with a view to helping them back into their jobs. The employers hired a management specialist who worked with the GPs and offered counselling. Two came back to work pretty quickly and one decided that it was time to let the job go and resigned.The co-op save money in the end.

On the subject of saving money I also hadn't realised how savage the cuts and tax rises have been in Ireland. The reason we haven't read about public sector pay packets shrinking by a fifth - no really, a fifth - and state benefits for all those of working age cut by four per cent, is that the Irish have pretty much just got on with it. It's a window on what may lie ahead for us. It made me want to go to Ireland on holiday just to show solidarity.

Still on the subject of saving money - I am opening my garden for a day for charity this summer as part of the National Gardens Scheme.

I've done it twice before and I should say two things - it's not a grand garden at all and in small villages like ours standards are not that high. I've always loved Lynn Barber's typically acid advice on how to create a beautiful garden - 'Spread money thickly'. But this time - like everyone else - I don't feel I have that much to spread and I don't want to slam a lot of plants on a credit card. There are six weeks left and so it's starting to feel a bit like Ground Force in our house only without Alan Titchmarsh's calming influence. I could post some pictures of the problem areas and the good gardeners among you could suggest what might work?

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You & Yours is on BBC Radio 4 at 1200 weekdays. Listen to today's episode on the Radio 4 web site.

Winifred Robinson presents You and Yours on BBC Radio 4

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