Sexual Abuse – Leaders, hiding your head in the sand won’t help

Sexual Abuse – Leaders, hiding your head in the sand won’t help


On World Mental Health Day 2019, our minds turn to the toll many people’s work has on their mental health. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of our employers, our workplaces can often be toxic for us.

If I were to ask you to name the things that are most important to your business, you would likely have ‘people’ right up there near the top. After all, you’ve probably invested heavily in acquiring and nurturing the right talent.

You’ll no doubt agree with me that happy teams full of staff that enjoy coming to work do better and contribute to the company thriving. But the reality is that the workplace can be taking a severe toll on employees. Despite appearances, many are finding it harder to come into work than they should.

You are doing well but are always looking for that bit extra to drive competitive advantage and profitability. But what else could you do?

Well, the answer isn’t so far away from where you’ve already been investing your time and money. It’s all about your employee’s mental health. That’s the key. It makes sense for your business, and it makes sense for your people.

Research has shown that UK businesses lose between £33 Billion and £42 Billion per annum due to poor mental health.

One of the biggest causes of sick leave is mental health. Although its probably recorded in a self-certification as a cold, flu or the dreaded diarrhoea due to the stigma attached to admitting something like anxiety or depression. A report by ACAS estimated that mental ill-health, including stress, depression and anxiety contributed in the UK to 91 million lost working days each year, more than for any other illness. No wonder so many colleagues complain that there are not enough staff to do the job. Quite a few of them are missing.

Those were the days lost that were identifiable because you could tell that employees were off sick. Worse still will be the impact of the employees that are affected by mental ill-health and are actually at work. You won’t be able to count those so quickly because the employees turned up, but they are likely severely underperforming.

Presenteeism is what happens when poor mental health distracts your staff. Some are recognisable because it is clear that your employees left their minds and enthusiasm at home. For others, the reduction in performance, the error rate or levels of risk taken are likely increasing, but its harder to spot or quantify.

Employees that are affected by depression and anxiety will often perform as well as anyone else. Many will be highly functioning. It’s not as simple as testing everyone and moving those that test positive to one side, focusing only on the so-called ‘healthy employees’. Nor is it simply a case of providing education, support lines for after it goes wrong, or training every other employee to be a mental health first aider, although they have their role.

In order for an organisation to be at it’s very best, it needs to value its employees and nurture their mental health.

Organisations benefit when they understand that employees are human, with moods and feelings that go up and down. A successful organisation will know words such as empathy and compassion and won’t need to sacrifice productivity or be “softer” to achieve results.

Successful organisations can achieve levels of collaboration and resilience that can not only boost the bottom line, but also give its staff, their families and friends a much needed boost too. Those are organisations where staff want to go to work and where they can focus on what’s in front of them from day to day. Most of all, they’ll know that if something happens in their lives, they’ll be able to talk to their peers and managers and receive the support they need.

Get in touch with Flexmind today and find out from our business and mental health experts how you can transform your organisation to one with motivated, productive staff generating increased revenue and reduced operating cost.

Sexual Abuse – Leaders, hiding your head in the sand won’t help


This week the BBC ran a story on its Newsbeat site ‘Ex-student sues Cambridge University over harassment complaint’.

‘A former student says she’s suing the University of Cambridge over the way it dealt with her harassment complaint.

Dani Bradford, 21, says she’s taken the action because she “wants things to change for other students”.

The university upheld a complaint she made about being sent “sexualised” text messages – but Dani isn’t happy with the way it handled her case.

Cambridge University says it “takes the personal safety of its students very seriously”.’

The concerns raised by Dani Bradford for her ongoing support and welfare after the event are without doubt wellfounded and reasonable. The has the right to continue to study in an environment that provides the support and reassurance that she needs. The trauma faced by people in her situation is both very real and substantial. It is also very common.

Our minds then turn to the University of Cambridge. There’s no reason to doubt that they take the personal safety of students very seriously.  But like most institutions, likely there is much more that can be done, even if they already meet all central and local government requirements and adhere to commonly understood standards in this area. Reliance upon often outdated regulation, guidelines and risk assessment that are often not fit for purpose can leave organisations woefully exposed if they are ever brought before a Judge.

Unfortunately, such stories are all too common, whether it is related to workplace harassment or in this case within an academic setting. Every day far too many people are having to say #metoo for the first time as they just joined the ranks of those who have been abused or harassed.

Protecting students through preventative measures such as education, the setting of standards and expectations as to what constitutes appropriate or inappropriate behaviour, developing the concept of permission-based interaction and developing healthier cultures and behaviours all need more work.  …and we don’t mean a knee-jerk intervention by the anti-fun police.

But there is more these organisations need to do. Firstly they need to get this right for the people over which they have a duty of care. That includes the students, their lecturers and the wide variety of academics, staff and third-parties working at, visiting or simply passing through a universities premises.

Then there is the need to get it right for the organisation or institution. This article focuses on Universities, but the exact same scenario exists within any public or private sector institution.  Get it wrong and there are significant financial, legal and reputation risks to the organisation.  Those doubting this, only have to look at the impact of not being in control of sexual harassment for organisations such as the UK Parliament, Stanford and Uber. Stanford, that hallowed of institutions found global notoriety in January 2015 with the now infamous Standford Rape Case.  One of the key reasons they struggled to get their London license renewed was because they weren’t seen to be protecting their passengers or responding to complaints sufficiently. The Mayor Of London took action in this case, and if such an action plays out badly it can still cost billions.

So in this day and age, where transgressions can go viral and can be reported on within minutes by any number of news institutions global it is important to be able to demonstrate that you’ve done everything reasonably possible to protect those that you have direct or even indirect responsibility for.

It’s no longer good enough to rely on the old line ‘…. takes the safety of its staff and ….. very seriously’.

Quite simply as an organisation you have to be able to demonstrate that you’ve done everything possible and can back this up by demonstrating that you have educated, challenged and changed processes, tracked, monitored, responded to complaints and had independent decision making of issues and scrutiny over what you have done.

Whoever is responsible for risk in your organisation and you should have a Chief Risk Officer or equivalent, needs to have issues like this on the very top of their agenda. It’s time that they stopped trying to weather the storm, relying on insurance cover, recommending compensation and Non-Disclosure Agreements to victims, accepting such issues as a ‘cost of dealing with the public’ etc and look to address the real root cause. Asking why such problems occur and looking at the root cause will likely end up looking at Senior Management, Processes, Culture etc. It won’t be an easy process and will require many leaders to look carefully at themselves, but ignoring it is no longer an option.

And in a case such as that with Dani Bradford at Cambridge,  when something hasn’t gone quite right, you’ll need to be able to provide support and care to mitigate the impact, cost and trauma experienced and to help the people through and beyond the event successfully and positively for all parties concerned.  And you might just have to be prepared to write a pretty sizable cheque if you don’t – compensation, fines and repairing reputation damage, lost revenue etc don’t come cheap these days.

Partners such as Flexmind who have a deep understanding of mental health, risk, regulation and business processes provide the consultancy, advisory, educational and support services, including psychologists and sexual abuse specialists to help Universities, Businesses and the Public Sector work towards doing better for their people and better managing the risk to the organisation.  Contact us today to find out more about how we can help you setup up the right framework and start tacking sexual abuse head-on.

Brian Tancock
Director & Founder

Flexmind Ltd 


Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

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