Insufficient support against a backdrop of rising levels of stress and mental health in the workplace is costing UK employers billions of pounds, according to a new study commissioned by a Blackpool businessman.
It is estimated that around 15% of people experience mental health problems in the workplace while more than 15% have a neurodiverse condition such as ADHD or autism.
The results of the report, which was recently conducted by Lancaster University for Joe Best of Perfect Support, come, he says, as no surprise.
Perfect Support, based in the town, works to improve workplace wellbeing at companies across the UK.
Changing corporate attitudes around awareness has become a personal mission for the 51-year-old, whose own story also continues to inspire those he helps.
Despite leaving school with no qualifications and being diagnosed with dyslexia while at university, Joe went on to pass his Law degree at the age of 35 – followed by a Masters – and now plans to go on and do a PhD in Occupational Health and Wellbeing.
“If you give me a chapter to read, I know it’s going to take me three or four times longer than someone else. And my university tutors kept saying to me ‘have you bothered checking your spelling?’ and they eventually advised me to go and get tested. That’s when I got the diagnosis. All this time it seems I had just hidden it really well. I became good at just verbalising.
“One of the best workplace comments I can remember, was when my manager said: ‘You don’t look dyslexic!’ That sort of summed it up.”
He added: “With any neurodiverse condition you can take two routes – You can wear it as a label and let it tie you down or you can adopt the attitude of ‘so what, I’m dyslexic.’
“I think, the reason I went in for my solicitor’s exams and my Masters degree, is because of that. My mentality is such that no one tells me I can’t do it. I like to prove them wrong. I feel really proud of what I’ve achieved.
“I have real empathy. When people say to me ‘I can’t do this because I’m dyslexic, I say ‘but look, I’ve got a Masters degree. I had to work my backside off to get it, but I did it!’
“If the managers take the time to figure out why a person is struggling in the workplace and give them the support, they can do their job. And it does frustrate me that managers sometimes just don’t take that time and effort. I’m very passionate about that.”
It’s this passion that tempted Joe out of semi-retirement five years ago to establish Perfect Support, growing his network of 14 coaches. Each of them brings qualifications and experience across of wealth of specialisms including ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, autism, Bipolar Disorder, Tourette’s, stress, anxiety, depression and grief.
He said: “The majority of people don’t want the coach coming into their workplace and sitting next to them. Or them having to find a spare room somewhere or having to leave their desk. With virtual support no one has to know except them and their line manager. And they don’t even have to do it in work hours. We’re really flexible with our clients.”
With more than 15% of people in the UK neurodivergent, any organisation of a fair size is likely to have neurodiversity within their workforce. It is estimated that around 50% of those don’t even know they are neurodiverse.
Lancaster University’s report states: “Ensuring neurodiversity among a workforce can bring significant benefits for organisations. Dyslexic individuals, for example, are inherently creative, think ‘outside the box’ and are great at seeing patterns in ‘big data’, all valuable skills for any workplace. For this reason, people with dyslexia are increasingly being sought by employers. Companies are having recruitment drives aimed specifically at people with dyslexia.
“In 2020, the number of people living with anxiety and depressive disorders rose significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting an increase of 26% and 28% respectively in just one year. It is estimated that 15% of working-age adults live with a mental disorder.
The report continues: “Without effective support, mental disorders and other mental health conditions can affect a person’s confidence and identity at work, capacity to work productively, absences and the ease to retain or gain work.
“Workplace stress can result in demoralised workforces, low morale, more absence, and higher staff turnover.”
After exploring career paths in Law and IT, Joe has never felt more rewarded than in his current role.
“People are struggling in the workplace, and it’s not their fault,” he said. “If they’ve got a neurodiverse condition, they can still do that job, they just need a bit of guidance. It’s the same with mental health.
“Some companies embrace it, and other companies just don’t want to know. There’s still that stigma and mentality among employers. Even if the company is really good at putting the support in place, sometimes the managers just don’t understand it.
“Everyone always dumbs you down – Oh, you’re dyslexic, you can’t read or you’re autistic so you won’t talk to someone or socialise. Rather than looking at all the negatives, why aren’t they spinning that and saying what’s the positives? What does it mean to our workforce?
“By turning the focus to mental wellbeing, employers can do their part to make the world a better place to work. The report showed that only 39% of UK employees said their workplace provided good mental wellbeing support, suggesting that, sadly, more work needs to be done.”