Data alone cannot combat a mental health crisis.
There’s a distinct difference between information and insight, and however much we value relevant data - we know that stats are only a part of the whole story.
Network Rail Chairman Sir Peter Hendy agrees, telling FirstCare in a recent interview: “Adequate absence recording is not managing absence, it's having the correct records. It makes it easier to manage absence, and it makes it easier to manage your workforce - but it doesn't replace the relationship that you ought to have with each employee.” (Sign up to our mailing list to receive the full interview video)
When it comes to mental health in particular, it’s not the data itself that has innate value but how it informs your next steps in supporting employee wellbeing. FirstCare data reveals that 1 in 7 workers who need time off due to COVID* will subsequently need time off for mental health troubles too.
Forward-thinking companies might take this opportunity to put additional support in place for those who have been affected by COVID; opportunities to talk to a professional, information about mental health resources or greater investment in mental health training. This prioritises and bolsters employee wellbeing, but it also helps to minimise business disruption. Especially considering that time off work due to poor mental health following COVID lasts 63% longer than mental health-related leave on average (33.6 days compared to 20.7 days).
If trends such as this can be identified by relevant data, they can also be managed – but that takes real, meaningful human input.
With FirstCare’s service, members speak to a qualified nurse which means they are less likely to mistakenly self-diagnose, and the right course of support can be taken earlier. It also means the data recorded will be more accurate as employees who may feel embarrassed talking to colleagues about their health – particularly their mental wellbeing – speak directly to professionals like Nurse Team Leader Sarah Grobiski. Sarah believes the neutrality of the service is one of its true strengths: “The employees we speak to really appreciate having an impartial person. We get all sorts of calls – you know, it could be work-related stress, it could be COVID, it could be mental health and […] we can sit with that person and speak to them as long as we want to; as long as it's needed.”
Another example of the distinction between information and insight:
FirstCare works with a bus company whose data revealed a prevalence of drivers needing time off due to musculoskeletal issues. Analysis revealed that the affected drivers were all suffering similar complaints. One plausible means of support based on the stats might have been to implement a fast-track physio service, but by consulting the drivers, it became clear they all had a similar shift pattern – taking over from other drivers. In order to stick to the timetable, drivers were not adjusting their seat setups properly, leading to long shifts in compromised driving positions. The company altered shift patterns to allow drivers more time at changeover, and musculoskeletal issues decreased accordingly.
Understanding issues faced by employees was another topic touched on in our discussion with Sir Peter Hendy who stressed how important it is for management to understand the pressures faced by those on the front line: "just because you've got a professional engineering qualification, doesn't mean you're fit to manage two or three hundred maintenance people. […] I’m as keen now as I was 45 years ago that when you enter a workplace, particularly as a graduate, you should understand what people on the front line actually do […] I do my level best to persuade [graduates] to go out and do a job on the ground, and actually some of them have changed their lives through doing that.”
FirstCare CEO Ian Caminsky agrees that it’s empathy and understanding that make the difference to effective management: “FirstCare’s proprietary database is something we’re very proud of – but it means relatively little as an entity in its own right. The data is simply a means to an end, a tool to record and identify trends that can be explored and resolved through good management.”
As Peter Drucker articulated in Management Challenges for the 21st Century: “The purpose of information is not knowledge. It is being able to take the right action.”