Employment and Mental Health Short Life Working group meeting minutes: 12 May 2021

Minutes from the group's first meeting on 12 May 2021.

Attendees and apologies

  • Angela Davidson, SG, Directorate for Mental Health (Chair)
  • Anne Armstrong, SG, Mental Health Nurse Advisor
  • Alastair Gregory, Scottish Enterprise
  • Boswell Mhonda, SG, Directorate for Fair Work and Employability
  • Catherine Totten, SG, Professional Advisor Mental Health
  • Graham Bush, SG, Directorate for Population Health
  • Julie Anderson, SG, Directorate for Mental Health
  • Karen Halford, SG, Directorate for COVID Business Resilience and Support
  • Linda Somerville, Scottish Trade Unions Congress
  • Lee Knifton, Mental Health Foundation
  • Lucy Sayers, SG, Directorate for Mental Health
  • Lynne McCaughey Pinsent Masons/This is Me
  • Mari Tunby, Confederation of British Industry
  • Patty Lozano-Casal, See Me
  • Rachel Anderson, SG, Directorate for COVID Public Health
  • Ruaridh Hayes, Directorate for Fair Work, Business and Skills
  • Sam Jennings, SDS
  • Sarah Jones, Health & Safety Executive
  • Sonya Scott, Public Health Scotland
  • Stewart Reid, SG, Directorate for Mental Health
  • Susan Love, Federation of Small Businesses


  • Dan Curran
  • Evelyn Rorie
  • Fiona Benton
  • Ghizala Avan
  • Morag Williamson

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

AD welcomed everyone to the first meeting of the Employment And Mental Health - Short Life Working Group (SLWG) and set out the context for the work of the group. She described how the pandemic had exacerbated mental health issues and inequalities, but noted that it had also developed a wider awareness of mental health issues and made people more willing to talk about them. 

AD facilitated introductions for all members of the SLWG.

Terms of reference review

JA introduced Paper 1: ‘Mental Health and Employment Short Life Working Group Terms of Reference’ and highlighted three key actions from the Mental Health Transition and Recovery plan 2.3-2.5 for consideration. She asked group members for feedback on the remit and the membership of the group.

Members agreed the remit of the group and noted the need to be clear on what was not in scope – for example the interface with schools, colleges and universities.

There was also a discussion around potential additional members of the SLWG. it was noted that COSLA had been invited to nominate a member and would be represented in the future. Public Health Scotland’s work on Mentally Flourishing Workplaces was highlighted as a development of direct interest to this group. It was suggested that links be made with the Fair Work Convention.

There was a discussion around lived experience. LM and LK offered to support the inclusion of the voices of those with lived experience through work with SAMH/The Samaritans and the Mental Health Partnership respectively. AD agreed the group should remain open to ideas and ensure other perspectives are taken on board.

There was a discussion around the approach to this work and the following key points were noted:.

  • timings should reviewed periodically to reflect wider events
  • the work should be clearly divided into phases and workstreams
  • work could be done to look at responsibilities of employers under the law
  • the group could map out the range of existing support, toolkits, exemplars available and look to establish a baseline of current support
  • the causes of mental ill health in the workplace could be researched further. It was noted that there is already a wealth of evidence around this but that there may be more needed
  • it was important to clarify what was outwith the scope of the group e.g. students, social determinants and restrictions and to keep the focus on what the group can do in the short term to address issues and provide practical support for employers and employees in different sizes and types of organisations
  • outcomes and tangible outputs should be collectively shaped by the group to meet needs of employees and employers in the wider context
  • the group should look to influence any forthcoming guidance on home workingLinks should be made to relevant work across the Scottish Government, with a particular focos on opportunities in manifesto commitments

AD summarised that there was general support for objectives in the remit but more discussion around priorities within those and specific outputs was needed. It was agreed that:

(a) the voices of those with lived experience should be included throughout this work

(b) the approach to this work and the objectives of the group should be kept under review

(c) the SLWG would help to determine and highlight key issues to other groups

(d) a sensible approach could be the work being divided up, with sub-groups looking at specific aspects

(e) due to different sizes and types of workplaces and their differing support needs, a one size fits all approach would not work

Action: SG to ensure that the work of this Group is linked to wider policy work on Mental Health, employment etc. and clearly set out the connections.

Reviewing the current context – existing research and evidence

SR introduced Paper 2: ‘Mental Health and Work – Current Context and Existing Evidence Base’ and set out some of the research findings on the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and work. He asked the group for their views on changing attitudes and behaviours throughout the pandemic and into the future in the workplace.

There was a discussion around returning to work and managing expectations. It was felt that there would be a need for work with employers to recognise the effects of new working models on mental health, to build understanding the significant changes that will be faced by employees and to anticipate the different impact that this would have on individuals.

It was highlighted that, while many people had expressed a preference to work from home (WFH, it was likely that some employees would want to return for social interaction but that this will not be the same as before the pandemic. Concern was also expressed over the challenging impacts returning to work would bring for employees, such as commuting fatigue. The need for a phased and flexible return to work was emphasised.

There was a discussion around diversity of employers and workplaces, with a lot ofexisting diversity within and between different sectors. For example, the need to consider those in sectors who have been in the workplace throughout the pandemic and are experiencing different issues to those working from home.It was suggested that the development of high level key principles would be helpful in supporting employers to develop policies on and approaches to mental health in workplaces. However there was discussion about whether guidance would actually achieve higher level outcomes and provide the immediate practical support required.

As regards home working, the group discussed the “always on culture” and reference was made to evidence on this, including guidance on the Right to Disconnect in Ireland. It was felt that guidance would be helpful on mitigating the negatives of home working and capitalising on the opportunities it provides. The group also reflected on the difficulties WFH can present for those with mental health conditions and inequalities e.g. preventing help-seeking, increasing anxiety and inadequate resourcing.

The Group discussed the importance of meaningful wellbeing conversations, noting that personal circumstances can be difficult to speak about e.g. domestic violenceand that guidance would be helpful for line managers in navigating these conversations, as well as support for staff to give them the confidence to have these conversations.

AD welcomed the wealth of perspectives members bought to the group andencouraged members to share any relevant research and resources that would support this work.

It was agreed that:

(a) Work around managing expectations was needed

(b) Guidance would need to consider the diversity of employers

(c) Evidence gaps may be around “always on culture” and the impact of WFH in changing help-seeking behaviour

(d) Support for management around handling wellbeing conversations is required

Action: all members to share links on relevant practice and research and SG to collate this: proposal for different workstreams to be drafted for consideration by the SLWG.

Initial scoping discussion and priorities for action

Whilst the group ran out of time before reaching this agenda item, in the course of the wider discussion under items 2 and 3 the following points were raised in relation to the scope of the work and priorities for action:

  • It was felt that there was a wide range of support available to employers but that the landscape was crowded and that a route-map or clear signposting was needed to help employers navigate this

  • There was discussion around the fact that whilst there are important structural issues which could be explored around mental health and employment, the priority for this short life group should be to address the current challenges that employers and staff are facing
  • It was suggested that the group could consider developing a set of key principles for a mentally healthy workplaces (including home working), with a set of different practical supports underneath these

Action: SG to follow up with individual members and produce a set of possible workstreams to be agreed within the group.

Next meeting 

The next meeting of the Short Life Working Group was scheduled for 1.30pm on 23 June 2021.

Lucy Sayers/Wellbeing and Prevention Unit/Mental Health and Social Care

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