‘Together we can get a better deal from the democracy we have’

Occupational psychologist and senior lecturer in psychology, Dr Ashley Weinberg (University of Salford), is hosting a British Psychological Society webinar in November on ‘mental health and wellbeing in the workplace – using politics as a case study’. Ella Rhodes spoke to him.

What will your webinar cover?

The daily reality of any workplace is a political experience and one that impacts on our psychological wellbeing in many ways, so I’ll be encouraging attendees to consider both sides of this coin. I’m taking the political work environment as a case study to help illustrate some of the challenges and we’ll be considering sources of pressure facing politicians and others engaged in political work, the role of wellbeing in democratic processes – whether in organisations or nations – as well as planning the necessary steps to improve mental health in all workplaces.

How did you first become interested in this area?

I was studying for the master’s in occupational psychology at Sheffield University and wondering what to do for my dissertation. We’d just had our first child and so time was pressured. Standing by the bin and poised to throw out the rubbish, I took a few moments to glance at the so far unread newspaper and saw coverage of Hugh Freeman’s lecture on the history of cognitive challenges facing politicians. I realise that nobody had researched stress in living national politicians before, and so I found a way to bring together my interests in psychology and politics. To my surprise, 124 MPs completed my survey and the research grew from there.

What still needs to change in this area?

The topic of mental health at work is so important, research is plentiful and yet progress in terms of policy and organisational approaches is rather gradual. For example, only last year Denmark became the first country in the world to issue an executive order for workplaces to ensure ‘a working environment that is good for mental health… crucial to keeping workers productive and healthy’. While the UK has HSE and NICE guidance, these are not legally binding and often firmer action is required to prioritise workers’ mental wellbeing. It seems the pandemic has made this so much clearer to organisations than before, so the key may be about learning the lessons rather than reverting to ‘business as usual’ when it comes to our wellbeing at work.

Could you tell us something that might surprise someone not familiar with this area of work?

Some may say it’s a surprise to know that politicians are human, but I hope that giving an insight into how politicians are also challenged by their job will get us thinking about the implications for our democracy. This isn’t about garnering sympathy for a privileged working group but fostering a positive change in our attitudes so that together we can get a better deal from the democracy we have, as well as encouraging employers and organisations to recognise the significant gains to be made from nurturing and promoting psychological health at work.  

What do you hope people will take away from the webinar?

I really hope that attendees will feel more confident in promoting psychological health in the workplace and perhaps more inclined to view those working in politics with less than the usual scepticism. Politics is very much part of how we bring about change and things seem to be demanding change in so many parts of our lives. Together I hope we can ensure change for the better in ensuring mental health is something workplaces no longer overlook.

Ashley Weinberg’s webinar is on Wednesday 10 November from 9.30am to 11.30am. Find more information and book

Ashley also contributed to this 2017 special.

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