Tag Archives: news

Cost: £99bn and 300,000 lost jobs a year Cause: poor mental health

Every year, poor mental health costs the UK economy up to £99 billion as productivity of employees falls and 300,000 people with mental health problems face the personal tragedy of losing their jobs.

But a report by the UK government, ‘Thriving at Work: The Independent Review of Mental Health and Employers’, shows that the status quo can and must be challenged
and that addressing the issue and fixing the problem not only cuts costs and improves employees’ wellbeing, but it can also have a positive financial return on investment for companies.

 The costsScreen Shot 2017-10-26 at 11.02.39

UK employers face annual costs of between £33 and £42 billion; more than 50 percent of those costs coming from ‘presenteeism’, when workers are less productive, and sickness absence and staff turnover.  The government picks up a tab of £24-27 billion much of it from welfare and NHS costs. The overall £99 billion includes all of the above costs, together with the opportunity costs of companies and the economy not being at full production and of the NHS not having to dedicate resources to mental health interventions – money that could be saved or spent elsewhere

 The opportunity

Equally – there are huge opportunities to cut these costs, improve productivity and improve the lot of the employee at the same time. Studies by Deloitte, cited in the report, show that where investment is made in improving mental health, it gives a consistently positive return with one case showing a £9.98 return on investment of £1.

 The vision

While the solutions should be tailored for individuals and by company, the value of the report will initially be that the issue of mental health in the workplace cannot now be ignored by employers.  In addition, individual employees are also encouraged to be aware of their own and other people’s mental health.

The report’s overall ambitions include that:

  • Employees in all types of employment will have ‘good work’ contributing to positive mental health
  • All of us will have knowledge and confidence to understand and look after our mental health.
  • All organizations, regardless of size, will have the awareness and tools to identify and prevent work factors leading to mental ill-health
  • They will be equipped to support individuals with a mental health condition to thrive
  • Organizations will have access to timely help to reduce sickness absences caused by mental ill-health

 Practical actions

The report highlights a set of actions, which over a decade, are designed to slash by a third the number of people leaving jobs due to mental health problems.  These practical interventions – or mental health ‘core standards’ that all companies must do, include:

  • Produce, implement and communicate a ‘mental health at work plan’
  • Develop mental health awareness among employees
  • Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
  • Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work/life balance and opportunities for development
  • Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors
  • Routinely monitor employees’ mental health and wellbeing

Best practice

In addition – and depending on their size and maturity, companies in a leading position on promoting mental health at work will also adopt some or all of the following ‘enhanced standards’:

  • Increase transparency an accountability through internal and external reporting [on mental health]
  • Demonstrate accountability
  • Improve the disclosure process
  • Ensure provision of tailored in-house mental support and sign-posting to clinical support

The bottom line results from these interventions could mean 100,000 fewer people leaving their jobs due to mental health problems and employers should be willing to pay £1 to get nearly £10 back.

All this could be great news for people suffering poor mental health, for the NHS and through increased productivity, for the wider economy.  Overall, it will be one element that promotes a decent, respectful society.

The key will now be implementation, transparently measuring and reporting progress and ongoing government focus on the topic.  Otherwise, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Google and PA put pressure on local journalists with ‘robot reporters’

Google yesterday announced an $800,000 project with the UK’s Press Association news agency, in which PA will develop ‘robot reporters’ that will write 30,000 articles a month for local newspapers.

That Orwellian piece of news got me thinking about local journalism and whether an algorithm, let loose in council databases, really can replace the reporter. Is it good for news journalism, is it good for reporters and what effect could it have on the role local papers play as a check and balance on local democracy?

My first contact with local journalism was when I did some work experience on a local weekly newspaper in the UK in the summer holiday of 1977 working with reporters and photographers. In many ways it was the age of the dinosaur; papers then were produced with huge production inefficiencies and the printing end of the operation was a tough closed shop with endemic restrictive practices and over-manning.  But the local paper, as it hit the street, did have the effect of keeping public authorities honest and often exposed them if they weren’t.

The newspaper office of the ‘70s had that heavy stationery-cigarette combination smell created by stacks of newspapers, copy pads, spikes, brimming ashtrays, wastepaper typewriterbaskets and rancid coffee cups. It was a world that hadn’t changed much since the 1920s – all reporters used shorthand, clattered away on manual typewriters and phoned-in copy (stories) from red phone boxes on street corners.

Fierce news editors demanded the facts and wielded a ‘blue pencil’, striking out comment or sloppy writing: words like ‘recently’, ‘quite’, ‘very’, and ‘big’ were outlawed. Did the story answer the where, when, what, why and how? If not – go away and do it again.

There were stacks of local and county council committee papers that reporters had to read and mark up to ensure a good story wasn’t missed – and they attended the meetings, known as ‘night jobs’, compensated for by an expense allowance of a quid or so for a pie and a pint for your evening meal.

Story tips came from indiscrete coppers, court ushers, friendly council officers and from blokes in pubs.  There was a weekly duty list for court reporting, ensuring all courts were covered or at least the charge sheet was collected and scanned for important cases.

Parcels of news stories marked ‘Urgent, useless if delayed’ were taken to the bus station and given to a driver who delivered it by bus to a neighbouring town. A messenger would meet the bus and deliver the parcel to the print works where a team of compositors would re-type the reporters’ stories into a type-setting machine.

Compositors cut, waxed and pasted paper columns of type onto a page layout, just like cutting an article out of a newspaper and gluing it into scrapbook. Printing plates were made from these layouts and fitted to an ancient Goss web-offset printing press, which thundered away producing the following morning’s paper.

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Printing press from circa 1905

These inefficient ‘dinosaur’ newspapers and human news reporters frequently produced exclusive, investigative breaking news about ‘rotten boroughs’, often picked up by national papers, radio and TV news. The result was that a staff of half a dozen journalists often delivered a big helping of accountability for those in power locally.

And today, what of those newspapers in the summer of 2017 – if they haven’t already closed? On the positive side, the operations are far more efficient from a production point of view – email and shared drives are clearly more efficient than putting news stories on a bus…. There’s less paper and no ashtrays in the office and fewer reporters who rarely leave their desks.  That reduced staff have to fill paper and web editions, copy is transmitted in milliseconds, mobile phones that aid the job of reporters and photographers, citizen journalists and bloggers.

Those local papers that have survived can’t spare reporters to go to council meetings or read the committee papers and there’s no court reporting. There’s less time to dig around and tease out a really strong story, while press releases are being copied and pasted, unedited, into papers to fill more white space.  Great for the PR company writing press releases, but not great for an independent press. Ironically, the original Google/PA roboreporter announcement contained a typo in the first line (yes, really) – which is faithfully reproduced in many news stories on the topic. QED.

Google’s robot reporters project – in their words – ‘supports journalism’, but not journalists (my words).  In the final analysis, though, churning out 30,000 stories a month is less of a news operation and more intended to net more readers for the new content, alongside which Google can place its paid-for ads.  Follow the money…

The result of automation will be fewer reporters, fewer investigative, exclusive splashes on sharp practice in public organisations and those in authority are less likely to be held accountable. The local newspaper – paper and web – becomes an increasingly endangered species as their output is automated and quality diminished. The ‘food chain’ of stories from local news teams through to the national media has all but ceased.

And while the internet has brought information to billions of people, a team of Google-sponsored robot reporters isn’t going to be enough to provide sufficient checks and balances on democracy locally, or even nationally. Because even robots require someone to create real news stories and content in the first place before they can ‘scrape’ it and pass it on.

News isn’t so much being suppressed, it’s not even being created. As a result, there’s never been a better time to be a malevolent or incompetent politician, con man, dodgy businessman, criminal or corrupt public official.

Photo credits: Typewriter by Ian Livesey

Goss Printing press: By Unknown (Life time: Unknown.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons