Absence at work – why mental health still isn’t talked about
Absence at work – My Son and his School
I’ve just had to keep my son off School today. I hate keeping him off school because I always have to battle with the absence officer as to why he’s taken time off again, without authorisation. By authorisation that means I have to take him to the doctors and get his arrival stamped, which is pretty ridiculous in my mind, but alas, rules are rules. I don’t see sense in needlessly wasting doctors time when my Son has an array of consultants at his disposal whenever he needs them. Today his absence had me thinking of the wider issues, of issues that I’ve experienced in the workplace, and how absence at work and mental health don’t often gel together.
It stuck in my head today because as I was getting Alex ready for School, his face was beetroot red, he looked exhausted and he was crying his little poor eyes out. Now usually I’d just get him ready and take him in anyway, because for him the worst part is the thought of going. When he’s there he enjoys it, and when I pick him up he jumps to up to see me, and is excited to tell me about the super awesome day he’s had. He has a good teacher you see, he’s aware of his needs and supports him really well in his class.
But today something was a little off.
It’s been gradually boiling over like a simmering pot for the last week. He’s been worrying a lot over the subjects he’s been learning. Florence Nightingale and the unhealthy conditions in hospitals before her time; he’s been asking Natalie and I a lot about bugs and if he’d catch them. And he’s been reading lots about Moses and the plagues that decended on Egypt. See, Alex has no concept of history, to him a thousand years ago could well have been just last year. He thinks I’m several thousand years old! And yet, today, it seems all that little stress in his mind had boiled over into some sort of tipping point, shutting him down today, paralysing him momentarily with fear. I could have sent him in, and yes, he’d just get on with it, and yes, he’d bounce back after school telling me how much of an awesome time he’s had. But this week he’s lost sleep. I couldn’t let him get any worse.
What type of parent would I be knowing what the full rammifications of anxiety can have on his physical and mental wellbeing, and ignoring it and taking a back seat to my sons struggle. No. I’m going to make a stand for what I believe in. And the excuse that I gave to school really made me think of absence at work.
Employers and Mental Health
And that employers are really letting their staff down.
I had excused Alex from attending School because he had a temperature and that he didn’t look too well, both were true, and yes, I’ve given him some calpol but it wasn’t the full story. And that brought me into thinking about employers, my previous employers and how staff are treated. Absence at work policies are really strict and are usually top heavy lenient on physical problems. A cold, the flu, broken bones, you get the idea.
What if I phoned up and said,
“I can’t come in today because I’m really anxious”
No doubt I’d be chalked up to skiving, be told to ‘man up’ and come in, or be put on warning. Even writing that sentence sounded ridiculous to me, that I should phone up work and tell them that I can’t come in because of my anxiety. And for me, that just re-inforces how little weight absence at work policies hold for Mental Health. Granted, there are certain inclusions for serious breakdowns and the likes, but I don’t think people actually realise that Mental Health issues aren’t limited to a massive breakdown and a psychiatric intervention – it’s more than that, so much more. Anything can upset the mind/body balance and have you careering to uncomfortability.
Mental Health is 4 in 4
Mental Health is 4 in 4, not just 1 in 4. Everyone at some point will experience a mental health tipping point in their lives at one stage or another, and no absence at work policy will prevent that from happening. It could be a love break up, losing someone you care about, moving home, having a child; so many things to upset the balance of the mind that people don’t fully understand, or put enough emphasis on. I’ve written about most of these things before.
And yet employers continue to grind their staff into dust. There is the unspoken word that if you take too much time off you can lose your job. It’s not said openly, but you know it’s there. Some people call it working class guilt, I call it harsh absence at work policies devised by ruthless employers. Employers that view their staff as objects to be used at their whim, to be moulded into certain shapes, and if they don’t fit – toss them into the bin and get a new one. I’ve heard it’s illegal to fire staff over things like such. They’ll find a way around it.
I get it though, I really do. People only look at what’s happening on the surface and rarely what’s happening underneath. People see what they see and come to their own conclusions. One job that I was in, many, many years ago terminated my contract because I was taking needless time off to go and relax in the pub, and on the surface I was being an utter massive dick, that likes to skive work and get drunk. No-one asked me why though. If they had cared to ask what it was all about they’d have found out that again, I was being bullied by my colleagues and made to feel worthless at my work. The willingness to get things done and learn was there – yet no-one was willing to take the time to empower me to do so, and alas, I was bullied out of being there. No-one looked at that.
They never do.
Staff Turnover is important
If I were to go back into PAYE employment again the first thing I’d do is look at staff turnover. People can argue that this is a result of employing a lot of young people that go to College and University and move onto different things, but I’m old enough to know that the good places I’ve worked at before, and lasted a long time at, the employers look after their staff. View them as an essential cog to the gears of their business. Happy School Leavers come back every summer, older staff stay for years, and those that want more are given more, you can tell it just by walking into a place and sitting there for 1 minute. How does it make you feel? Happy? Uncomfortable? That’s how it will be working there as a member of staff.
In my mind absolutely zero emphasis is put on mental health and absence in the workplace policies. Staff need to be talked to, asked about their day, if everything is ok at home. It may seem rather intrusive to some but it becomes normal after a while. My last employer did that. Before any meeting we had she always asked me how my life was and if there was anything I needed to talk to her about. Ten minutes each week, just being interested in my life, not judging. It really grew on me, I felt part of a community, I felt part of the company. That I was cared for, that I was respected. I flourished in that place. And they never minded if I was too unwell to come into work, mentally or physically. Do you know what the meant?
I didn’t take the piss.
I wasn’t inclined to take needless sick days, or silly time off because I didn’t want to go in. I felt part of their system, a valued piece in their system, and I felt like I was part of something amazing. I wanted to the best for that place that I could possible do. The staff retention there was next to nothing, people stayed for years until their pot of money dwindled, it was an amazing place to work. They knew about mental health and why employee satisfaction was so important, and they also knew how to look at the under-the-surface issues when it came to sick days and absence at work.
They had me for life.
Well, until they couldn’t afford to keep me anymore.
And this is where employers get it wrong. I see so many staff in other organisations treated as tools to be moulded, and the general mentality should be that it’s an honour to work at the company. When it should be turned on its head. The company should be honoured that such great people work for them, that the business is able to grow and reach new amazing heights because so many people have devoted their time to working at the growth of the business. THAT is how it should be.
And THAT is how you recognise individuality and mental health.