Port Employer Survey - Mental Health and Wellbeing Provision

Published: Wednesday, March 24, 2021 - 11:09

Richard Steele
Richard Steele, Chief Executive, Port Skills and Safety

Most employers recognise the vital importance of good mental health in the journey to providing healthy and safe workplaces.  But how to step from that principle into concrete action is the million-dollar question.  Nobody expects employers to become qualified psychiatrists, stereotypically peering over their glasses as they make cryptic notes in a spiral bound book and ask about your relationship with…  


In February, we followed up conversations with members by inviting them to complete a survey.  We wanted to know what they were actually doing; what they thought was working.  We would then combine the findings and share them with the whole community, separating out nice-in-theory from practical-and-achievable.  Ports could then benchmark themselves and take action based on their own gap analysis.    


We used questions from a MIND survey, associated with the go-to UK Government text: Thriving at work, The Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employers (2017).


What we found…

  1. Policy & Leadership

Just like physical health and safety - and in equal measure - this subject needs leadership and representation from the top.  And we found it here.  All ports had either a specific mental health plan, or mental health component in their overall health and safety plan.  Approximately 70% of respondents had specific leadership commitment and/or an Exco/Board mental health champion.  This is the starting point, the success of everything else depends on it.  But it is also not enough on its own.

  1. Campaigns, information and training for employees

Everyone had run campaigns, provided their own and third party information.  Half ran wellbeing or engagement forums.   General awareness and specific theme (suicide prevention, isolation, bereavement, etc.) campaigns had been delivered, sometimes tied to national events like mental health awareness week.   Financial planning sessions and e-learning (such as Mates in mind 45-minute awareness sessions) had also been given in some ports.  All had used at least one, and often more than one, awareness raising method. 


Eagle-eyed readers of our article on Monday will recall that 44% of responding employees “...said they didn’t know if their organisation had a mental health policy in place.”  So, some organisations may not have a policy or have not started communicating to their people.  Or, perhaps, much like health and safety in general, on-going communication is needed to ensure that everyone is aware of the systems in place to protect them.  Like riding a bike; you have to keep pedalling to get anywhere and if you stop, you fall off.

  1. Provision of individual support

Of those employees who might ask for help – and far from everyone will – the best outcomes happen if individuals are personally supported.  All the surveyed organisations provided individual personal support through a combination of employee assistance programmes, occupational health and mental health first aiders.  The latter were clearly seen as important first responders.  83% of those surveyed either already had mental health first aiders in place or had a plan to bulk up their mental health first aider provision.  But most employers were also able to go above and beyond first aid to offer one-to-one interventions by competent persons.  One port had provided hypnotherapy and counselling.


Personal support was augmented by intranet portals/pages or apps.  Core information was always available to all employees; however, some respondents had or were developing additional specific resources for managers and/or mental health first aiders.

  1. Management training/role of managers

Everyone said that mental health was an explicit element of the training and support provided to supervisors and managers as part of overall effective people management.  This included unambiguous messaging that physical and mental health are equally important. 


All but one organisation: a) provided managers with training on mental health and stress management – including how to spot the signs and how to have supportive conversations; b) had clear guidelines for managers on managing mental health issues and resources available to them and c) actively encouraged and supported positive manager behaviours e.g., including mental health conversations within regular one-to-ones.


Other manager support included: annual training/awareness; domestic abuse awareness; managing stress and mental health in the workplace (e-learning and taught sessions).  In some cases, documents were provided to help facilitate conversations on mental health, such as supervision templates and return to work forms with wellbeing related questions.

  1. Health practices supporting good mental health

These included: flu vaccinations, provision of prescription glasses, access to Occupational Health practitioners.  Mental health was typically built into the Occupational Health Plan with resources and referrals available through occupational health.  One organisation had consciously chosen not to have mental health first aiders, combining an employee assistance programme and occupational health in a fully professional led solution.

  1. Identifying mental health needs

Most had a defined programme of mental health interventions at regular intervals throughout employment.  These typically combined procedural (e.g., sickness interviews, routine medicals), managerial (e.g., line manager engagement, 1:1s) specialist (e.g., mental health first aiders, occupational health, HR) and self-referral (e.g., EAP).  Nobody relied on a single method.  They used multiple ways of engaging and capturing risk indicators (‘in depth’ rather than single point of failure). 

  1. Hiring and workplace adjustments

Everyone had policy or procedure to allow adjustments to be requested at interview and to action them accordingly.  All were ready to consider (case-by-case): changes to working hours or break patterns; changes to the local job environment / workstation; phased return to work; changes to role (temporary or permanent) and allocation of tasks; coaching, mentoring and buddy systems.  Union representatives had been very supportive, but that typically was something that the employee themselves would initiate.  Almost all explicitly factored mental health considerations into decisions on working practices; including: risk assessments, 1 to 1s, wellbeing action plans, adjustments to workplace and welfare facilities; increased occupational health provision and remote working.

  1. Monitoring mental health and wellbeing

All ports set priority topics and targets which consistently monitored and reported on mental health in some way.  Over half used the results of separate categories within absence monitoring to understand risk factors and reported these findings internally to the Exco or Board.  One third also reported the findings externally beyond the port.  Half conducted staff surveys.  None used team mental health audits (this was the only activity or option in the entire survey that nobody had implemented).


What we learned…


All the ports surveyed were engaged and active on mental health and wellbeing.  Not everyone was doing the same thing, but they all had a plan and had put it into action.  Some were further along the journey than others.  This was a sample of PSS members, not the entire membership, so there is scope to build a fuller picture and garner more participants in response to these findings.  Our employee survey suggested that there is still some distance for the sector to travel both in awareness of policies/practices and in creating the conditions where all employees feel that they can talk to their manager.  It seems likely too that managers will need time and support to become confident that they have the skills to help and possess the knowledge of when to call upon health professionals.  Learning from each other will speed up our industry’s developing capability and response time, which has to be good news for all.

To access the entire report click here