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In 6.8 people experience mental health issues in the workplace which is around 14.7% of the entire workforce in the UK (Mental Health Foundation, 2018). Working conditions or environment can have a significant impact on employees’ mental health, engagement and performance in their jobs (Mind, 2013). Many people are struggling in the workplace and they are affected by conditions from commonly recognised stress and anxiety to more complex mental health conditions such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar (ACAS, n.d.). More employers in the recent years started to recognise and understand what challenges people face at and with the workplace due to mental health problems they suffer with, and what impact this has on their organisations (increased staff turnover, sickness absence, burnout, exhaustion and decreased motivation and poor productivity) (Mental Health Foundation, n.d.). Therefore, many employers work on developing and improving mental health and wellbeing strategies in providing support and services for employees affected by mental health disorders to overcome their struggles, and create a positive mental health environment (Mental Health Foundation, 2019).
Human Resources (HR) specialists at Creative Assembly (CA) constantly develop and improve support for both employees who suffer with mental health issues, and managers who are exposed to working with employees affected by mental health problems. There are four HR specialists at CA looking after over 470 employees (CA, 2019a) for all related queries. These are varied from basic administration related issues to dealing with performance, grievances, health problems, etc. All HR team members are trained to some extent to deal with more complicated queries they come across.
Promoting positive mental health and wellbeing support at CA is crucial, because supported employees will likely perform well, their attendance levels will improve and they will be happier and more engaged in their work (ACAS, n.d.). The purpose of this research proposal is to set out research aims and objectives connected to the role of HR professionals at CA in supporting employees affected by mental health problems and managers exposed to work with these employees. Also, to provide an organisational context that will be linked to the topic of mental health in the workplace, review a relevant literature, align methodology and research methods with set aims and objectives to investigate current situation at CA and externally in relation to mental health topic, and to propose analysis and presentation of results and findings.
The main aim of the research is to study the role of HR professionals at CA in supporting employees suffering with mental health issues and managers who deal with employees experiencing such problems. The research will critically analyse the support already available to both employees and managers. Also, it will seek different solutions HR professionals at CA can introduce to improve existing services and support to offer the best possible assistance to these employees in order to create healthier work environment and reduce staff turnover, long term sicknesses etc. Data to support this aim can be gathered from available sources in the workplace including databases, current wellbeing strategies, information included in the research already done by the organisation (e.g. similar/different services offered by the biggest competitors), available literature as well as available online sources.
To support the main aim of the research will be finding out information about employees who suffer with mental health issues at CA through available data and without exposing their names or other personal data that would identify who they are. Collected data will provide an overall number of employees suffering with mental health conditions and what conditions they are suffering with. Such data can be analysed against already offered by the organisation support. For example, number of employees using employee assistance programme (EAP) with relation to mental health, etc. at present in comparison with previous years. EAP provides an annual report to HR at CA and it is available to all team members for viewing.
The report only provides information about number of employees who used EAP services and what their queries were related to. Additionally, data related to this aim will be collected from internal database and it can be useful in establishing correlation with available externally data (e.g. increasing/decreasing data about number of employees suffering with specific mental health conditions (anxiety, depression, etc.) on a national level.
Moreover, the research will focus on analysing available help offered by CA to employees experiencing mental health issues and support these employees are currently receiving from managers and HR specialists. Collected data and information will be helpful in understanding what services offered by CA are used and how efficient they are. Relevant data will be gathered by conducting interviews with selected employees, managers and members of the HR team. Furthermore, some questionnaires and surveys may be completed with a selected group of individuals. Information about available services currently offered by the organisation can be extracted from employee’s handbook and the company’s intranet. Any information that is confidential will be accessed with the consent from studio management and related to research employees and it will be used to add value to the overall research.
Lastly, the intension of the research is to identify gaps and provide recommendations on how to improve existing support or introduce new solutions to increase efficiency in supporting both employees suffering with mental health problems and managers working with these employees.
Creative Assembly is a British video game developer established in 1987 based in Horsham, West Sussex and operating in the private sector (CA, 2019b). The company is one of the largest and biggest studios in the UK, striving to maintain a “family’ feel and non-corporate environment that is fun but professional” (ibid). In 2005, CA was bought by an international publisher SEGA (ibid) and in 2017, the company’s total turnover was over £40 million (ibid).
The strategy at CA is clearly defined by the publisher Sega and it is briefly outlined as CA to be the market leader in Real Time Strategy games as well as future generation console titles (CA, 2019c). Other strategies include, but are not limited to: promoting wellbeing, creating a healthy working environment and continuing to develop the HR services to support employees suffering with mental health issues and disorders (CA, 2019d). CA recognises that a large number of their employees suffer with mental health problems and constantly work on improving existing support and seeks new ways to assist these employees (directly and via line managers).
Research shows that workforce in the UK is increasingly affected by mental health and this topic should be on agenda for all organisations (Mental Health Foundation, 2018) including CA. HR professionals often have limited understanding or training regarding how to support employees with mental health issues (Houtenville and Kalargyrou, 2014). However, through their actions, they can ensure stability and create positive environment in the workplace (Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, 2019). A healthy workplace is where senior management, HR and line managers contribute to improving and developing the working environment by promoting and protecting the health, wellbeing and safety of all employees (Ramesh, 2017).
HR professionals should ensure that employees feel comfortable at work. This can be managed via e.g. coaching and guiding employees, facilitating workforce productivity, overseeing professional development and most importantly to listen and respond in appropriate manner to employees’ personal problems and issues (CIPD, 2019). However, HR staff as well as managers regularly struggle to accommodate the needs of employees suffering with mental health issues and the support is usually not efficient (Barlow et al., 2003). The constraint is that sometimes it is hard for HR or managers to identify employees who suffer with mental health disorders, because they do not disclose their problems fearing loss of their jobs if they do so (Charmaz 2010).
In order to support employees with mental health issues, HR advisors should work on creating and implementing wellbeing strategies and policies. Also, they need to be able to provide direct support to sufferers through confidential chats. A confidential chat should happen in appropriate place, employee should be encouraged to talk, no assumptions should be made, the employee should be listened to, conversation should be clear and honest, and confidentiality ensured (Mind, n.d.). After the meeting with an employee, HR person should develop an individual action plan including signs of the employee’s mental health problem, triggers and identify possible impact this will have on their work or who to contact in crisis and it should have an agreed review date (ibid). Additionally, HR professional should encourage the employee to seek professional help through NHS, using Employee Assistance Programme and other externally available sources including Mind’s Infoline (ibid). It is important to outline to the employee available support, give them time and reassurance that they can come for support they need anytime (ibid).
Moreover, managers should support employees affected by mental health to make them feel valued so they are able to manage their health problems more efficiently (Donaldson-Feilder & Lewis, 2016). Therefore, HR staff should advise line managers what are they responsibilities in supporting employees in their teams who have mental health problems. These responsibilities can include: creating realistic deadlines, dealing with problems as soon as they arise, regularly asking team members how they are, etc. (CIPD, 2018).
Furthermore, managers need to develop a relevant management behaviour through feedback from HR, workshops and training. (Donaldson-Feilder & Lewis, 2016). Line managers should be trained by HR in spotting the signs and triggers for employee distress. These include: working long hours, not taking lunchbreaks, creating unrealistic expectations or deadlines, unmanageable workloads, negative relationships, poor communication, an unsupportive workplace culture, lack of management support and job insecurity (CIPD, 2018). However, developing skills in finding such triggers is a long process and managers should seek help from HR professionals to support employees who opened to them in regards to their health problems (Donaldson-Feilder & Lewis, 2016). Such help include advice given to managers on initiatives such as flexible working, job redesign, or addressing negative dynamics within teams and workplace in general (Ramesh, 2017). On the other hand, managers who assume staff are okay, they give mostly negative feedback or create unrealistic deadlines and targets are likely to aggravate stress for their reportees (CIPD, 2018).
Methodology and methods
The methodology used for the project will provide answers to questions about the different data that will be collected, generated and analysed (Easterby-Smith et al., 2012). The term research philosophy is a system of beliefs and assumptions in developing knowledge in a particular field or topic (Bryman, 2012). The assumptions established by a research philosophy give justification how the topic research will be undertaken and it can explain the assumptions that are essential in that research (Flick, 2011). One of the assumptions regarding knowledge, what integrates acceptable knowledge, and how this is communicated to others is called Epistemology (Easterby-Smith et al., 2012). A variety of acceptable epistemologies gives researcher a wider choice of research methods (ibid). Therefore, it will be suitable in undertaking research regarding support provided to employees suffering with mental health issues at CA.
The chosen philosophy, most appropriate for the research on supporting employees with mental health by HR and line managers at CA is pragmatism. Reality is important for pragmatists and it considers theories, concepts, ideas, research findings not in an abstract form, but thoughts and actions in terms of practical outcomes in various contexts (Easterby-Smith et al., 2012). From a pragmatic perspective, the research will start with the problem of mental health at CA and how employees who suffer with mental health conditions are supported by HR professionals as well as their managers. It will aim to find solutions or improvements to support affected workers in best possible way. On the other hand, it can be unclear how to resolve problems coming from pragmatic approach interpretations, and research design can be very complex due to mixed methods being used (Kelemen & Rumens, 2008). However, it is a best suited choice for the research as it will focus on problems, practices and relevance. Also, it will use a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods, and it will look for practical solutions and outcomes (Saunders et al., 2016).
For the purpose of the project research quantitative and qualitative (Saunders et al., 2016) methods to collect data will be used. Quantitative data is designed to collect numbers and hard facts (Bryman & Bell, 2015). Majority of the quantitative data will be collected through databases, closed questions surveys and it will provide information about scale of the problem, for example: how many employees suffer with mental health issues or how many employees disclosed their mental health from the beginning of their employment.
This will be a starting point in analysing support that is currently offered to affected by mental health disorders employees. Quantitative data will provide information required to draw conclusions from the general research (ibid). However, qualitative data describe a research topic rather than measure it (Creswell, 2014). A survey structured to collect qualitative data will bring depth of understanding research questions, also, it will make it harder to analyse (ibid). Qualitative research will provide opinions, views, thinking and attitudes towards the topic of mental health and already available support that is provided to affected by mental health problems employees. Additionally, it can help with identifying gaps for improvement in the support provided by HR professionals and line managers at CA. Quantitative and qualitative methods will include surveys, questionnaires (containing opened questions) and interviews (Saunders et al., 2016). However, focus groups (Bryman & Bell, 2015) will not be used due to the topic of mental health being very delicate and confidential as some employees would not feel open to discuss their issues in front of other employees.
Suggested above philosophy and research methods are the most appropriate for the research proposal on mental health at CA, because they will fit with the approach to analyse the topic due to its confidential and ethical nature. Majority of data available internally (databases, reports and developed strategies) will exclude any personal data that would point out affected employees and it will only be used to add value to the research and its final outcome.
Proposed analysis and presentation of results
The analysis linked to the topic of mental health at CA will provide number of employees affected by mental health disorders (disclosed to the company). This will be compared with national statistics to find out the percentage of employees affected by mental health at CA against national average. Moreover, the analysis will look into conditions employees at CA suffer with, giving a base to analyse services the organisation offers to the sufferers. Lastly, all support that is currently available to workers suffering with mental health issues (via HR and line managers) will be reviewed to identify gaps and provide recommendations for improvement or further development.
The results will be presented in a simple and easy to understand way to describe what was found during the research. At the beginning readers will be made aware of the representativeness of the research data through a brief description of participants (e.g. age group or sex) and key findings (Marsh & Ogunbanjo, 2014). Statistical (qualitative) data which includes numbers or figures will be best presented in tables and charts, while its interpretation in text (Fah & Aziz, 2006). Tables can be useful in summarising big amounts of data, charts can be used for highlighting trends and text provides narration and interpretation of collected and presented data (quantitative data) (Fah & Aziz, 2006).
It is very important that presented content is relevant and matches the research questions, aims and objectives (Marsh & Ogunbanjo, 2014). Also, the collected data will be tailored to the context and addressed to the relevant issues.
In conclusion, the intended research will include conducting interviews, and sending to the selected employees’ different types of surveys and questionnaires (open and closed questions) to gather the relevant data internally. Such data will be required to understand the extent of mental health problems faced by the employees at CA and to understand what support is currently available. Collected internally data will be compared with national average statistics to understand the extent of the problem at CA in a wider context
Additionally, the research intends to indicate gaps for improvement and suggestions and further steps HR professionals and line managers at CA need to make in order to improve current processes and implement new ways of supporting people who suffer with mental health issues.
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