The making of the Acas Framework for Positive Mental Health at Work

Abigail Hirshman

Deputy Director, Acas Midlands

As Acas Deputy Director, Abigail works with organisations to develop practical solutions to improve business wellbeing and increase productivity. Abigail has lead the Acas strategic review into workplace mental health.  Before joining Acas, Abigail worked in Higher Education, initially as Head of the Counselling and Mental Health Service, and then as a Senior Researcher. Abigail has an MSc in Psychology and an MA in Psychotherapy and is an experienced practitioner around mental health and wellbeing.

The first thing we need is a plan, a way of apportioning who does what.

In her recent blog Poppy Jaman, City Mental Health Alliance, spoke for many when she said that “the workplace can provide a supportive space that encourages ongoing positive mental health and even facilitates recovery”.

I couldn’t agree more with the ‘can’. But how do we make this happen and help improve the working lives of millions of people in the UK.

The first thing we need is a plan, a way of apportioning who does what. That’s where I believe the new Acas Framework for Positive Mental Health​The Acas framework for positive mental health at work PDF Employers, managers and individuals can work together towards a shared goal of positive wellbeing and productive workplaces. The Acas framework is an accessible, easy way to think about the part that each can play and how they fit together.Free By: Acas View resource comes in and why I am so pleased to see it as part of the Mental Health at Work site.

The Acas Framework divides the ‘supportive space’ Poppy talks about into three overlapping but distinct areas that describe what the individual, manager and employer can do to improve their own health, the health of those around them and, ultimately, the health of the organisation.

A diagram of the Acas framework for positive mental health, showing the connected roles of employers, individuals and managers

The overlaps, especially between a manager and a member of staff, are very significant. These are the physical and head spaces where people interact, listen, build trust and intervene to make positive change for each other.

But how did we develop our framework? There were some obstacles along the way. We found:

  • there was very little evidence for what works, yet a bewildering array of offers from very well-intentioned organisations. In this crowded marketplace, the signposting provided by Mental Health at Work will be an immense help
  • the same old stigmas about mental health abound, with mental ill health seen as an inconvenient landmark to be avoided, rather than something to be understood
  • an ongoing perception that Acas mainly deals with the bad stuff like tribunals and conflict, and not the good stuff like positive mental health and wellbeing. In fact, we have been providing advice and training to employers for over a decade.
The eureka moment came when we realised that mental health is the landscape we all live in

The eureka moment came when we realised that mental health is the landscape we all live in, and it touches every part of our personal and working lives.

Research projects we commissioned, on everything from the impact of new technology to the use of emails, told us that all work issues have a mental health angle. We knew we were on to something but had to develop a vision that embraced all the different aspects of working life.

We looked at what other people were doing, we talked to key stakeholders, like Mind, and we listened to them, to our customers and to our own expert advisors. We decided that promoting positive mental health at work is a responsibility shared by individuals, managers and employers. To support the framework we have developed a series of training modules, suitable for all businesses in every sector. These will be launched in the next few weeks.

The modules fully reflect the recommendations in the Stevenson/Farmer review, Thriving at Work​Thriving at work: the Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employers PDF An independent review into how employers can better support all employees' mental health, including recommended core standards.Free By: Department for Work and Pensions / Department of Health and Social Care View resource, and echo the sentiments expressed in Poppy’s blog: the workplace not only can support good health and recovery, it should. Together we can make this happen.

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