This month, we have the opportunity to honour the hard work and sacrifices of people who work in the public sector, with the internationally recognised Public Services Day (23rd June).
Public Services Day was originally founded by the United Nations and, after what has been a year and a half of extraordinary challenges for many of our public sector services, we felt compelled, more than ever, to mark the occasion this year by highlighting some of the issues around mental health in the public sector.
The role of the public sector
According to the Office for National Statistics there are approximately 5.5 million people employed in the UK’s public sector, which accounts for roughly 16.7% of all people in paid employment.
So, it’s a huge employment source, but what exactly is the public sector?
One way of defining the public sector is ‘services that enhance the public experience’.
From frontline healthcare, and social services, housing, refuse disposal, transportation and education, to law enforcement, emergency services and the armed forces, not to mention the thousands providing administrative and managerial support, it is hard to imagine what life would be like without a public sector to rely on.
All of these services provide invaluable support to communities across the UK and are crucial to the day to day running of our society, and we rely on them to be equipped to deliver the services and support that enable us to both function and to thrive.
The public sector and mental health
In 2017 a survey, conducted by the mental health charity Mind, found that people working in the public sector were over a third more likely to say that their mental health was poor when compared to people in the private sector (15% versus 9%).
It was also found that public sectors employees were more likely to say they have felt anxious at work on several occasions over the last month (53% compared to 43%).
In addition, public sector employees said that they had taken nearly 3 days off sick in the last year (on average) for mental health related reasons, compared to an average of just under 1 day for employees in the private sector.
More recently the 2018/19 Mind Workplace Wellbeing Index found that 75% of public sector employees have experienced poor mental health, compared with 66% of private sector employees.
Of the public sector employees who had experienced poor mental health only 52% had informed their organisation.
This is a concerning set of findings, when you consider the crucial role that these services play in both supporting and enhancing the experience of living in the UK for us all.
Why the public sector need to enable employee mental health
When you consider the positive impact on the lives of the 68 million people living in the UK, of quality, well delivered public services, it makes logical sense to invest in creating and nurturing a working environment that equips the people who design, deliver and support those services with the knowledge, tools and confidence to look after their own physical and mental wellbeing, and to maintain positive mental health.
The reason is that when people are in optimal mental health, they operate from their intellectual brain and this enables them to
- Focus and concentrate
- Make sound decisions and explain the rationale behind them
- Deal with pressure
- Articulate needs
- Manage conflict
- Establish rapport and build relationships
- Think creatively and innovate
- Solve problems at speed
All things that are crucial to delivering quality services that enhance the lives of others.
When people are not in optimum mental health, all of these things become compromised.
We often say, here at Mental Health In The Workplace that it we were ill, in trouble, or in need of support, we’d rather be looked after by a paramedic, nurse, police officer or fire fighter who is operating from their intellectual brain, than one who is struggling with a full stress bucket and operating from their primitive brain.
You can find out more about the stress bucket and our intellectual vs primate brain in our blog post: What has a bucket got to do with stress?
We already know that organisations that prioritise the wellbeing of their people, enable their workers to contribute the best of themselves to their roles, and that when organisations fail to do this, they experience higher levels of absence, presenteeism, turnover, conflict and disengagement.
This is problematic for any organisation, but in the public sector, the result is compromised public services, the impact of which can be both significant and far reaching.
In this sector adequate mental health training and support is not a ‘nice to have’. Neither is it about being ‘nicer’ to those who work in the sector (although we do advocate kindness). In this sector, adequate mental health training and support is arguably the most strategic piece of work an organisation can do, if they are genuine about enhancing the lives of those who live in this country.
Does your organisation promote positive wellbeing in the workplace?
Find out by taking our quick Mental Health At Work Quiz
This short quiz will take you through the six areas of ‘work design’ that highlight the primary sources of stress at work that, when not managed well, are associated with poor mental health and can lead to increased absenteeism and presenteeism, resulting in reduced creativity, productivity and results.