Counselling and Privacy at Work
Organisations often provide access to some form of counselling. This helps staff to overcome their personal problems, helping to raise morale in the workforce. To get the most benefit from these services, people must be able to trust that they can discuss their problems in confidence, without adversely affecting their jobs. Some very private issues are involved, and it is of the utmost importance that these be kept confidential.
Causes of Stress and WorryEmployees are only human, and human beings have problems. Just some of the worries that people may want to discuss in confidence with a counsellor are as follows:
- bullying at work
- lack of job satisfaction
- alcohol or drug dependency
- anger management
- difficulties in their relationships at home
Workers should feel that they can discuss any aspect of their lives that is causing them stress or discomfort. By working through these issues, they will be in a better state of mind to excel at their jobs, so a business benefits from providing its workforce with ready access to counselling services.
Trust and PrivacyA counsellor should be allowed to offer truly independent advice to an employee seeking help. Unless this is widely understood, staff will not be able to open up and they will continue to suffer their problems in silence. So, for example, if someone admits that they are looking for another job outside the company, the person they have told in confidence should not pass this information to anyone else. In this respect, the relationship between those giving and seeking counsel is rather like that between doctors and their patients.
Personal InformationPeople undergoing counselling may admit very private things about themselves, such as their sexual orientation or financial circumstances if these are worrying them. A counsellor will typically provide support and advice to many people, and so must make notes in order to be able to support them effectively; they cannot be expected to remember the individual circumstances of everyone they see. Clearly, these notes must be handled sensitively and kept closely guarded.
Classification of Counselling RecordsThe Data Protection Act specifies that individuals do not have the right to inspect their own health records if disclosure of this material could cause harm to the individual or to a third party. Some organisations may choose to classify notes from counselling sessions as health records in order to avoid having to offer access to the counselled employees if they seek it. There are many examples of this kind of loophole in UK privacy law.
Outside ServicesOnly very large organisations will have the resources to keep professional counsellors on their staff. Smaller businesses may expect workers in human resources to take on this role, but there are limits to how effectively they will be able to offer advice, particularly on issues relating to mental health.
Employees may prefer to seek counselling from independent experts outside of the organisation. They may receive a better quality of advice, and will not have to worry about the topics they discuss causing harm to their careers.