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Time to talk about workplace mental wellbeing

29 Jan 2020

Workplace mental wellbeing is a top concern among employers, according to European-wide research and the latest statistics from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) show that work-related stress, depression or anxiety now represents 44% of all work-related ill health and 54% of working days lost – a total of 12.8 million days in 2018/19. According to the World Health Organization, lost productivity due to mental illness costs Europe US$140 billion per year and, in the UK, workplace mental illness is estimated to cost 2% of GDP.

The continuing rise in such figures highlights the need for companies to increase their focus on mental health to ensure employee wellbeing, reduce absences and avoid complaints or claims from staff and for employers to review policy and culture against best practice in employee mental wellbeing.

Workload pressures, tight deadlines, too much responsibility, and a lack of managerial support were the main reasons given as the cause of workplace stress in the HSE findings.  Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by undertaking a risk assessment and acting on it.  Furthermore, where an employee is suffering from a mental health condition which has a long-term effect on day to day activity, this may be classed as a disability requiring the employer to take positive action under the Equality Act 2010.  The Equality Act makes it unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled person less favourably because of their disability, without a justifiable reason.

Depression or anxiety is not enough on its own to meet the definition of ‘disability’ under the Equality Act, unless it has a substantial, long-term impact on an individual’s abilities.  But, whatever the extent of an individual’s mental health issues, employers should carefully consider the support they provide.

Workplace wellbeing

In extreme situations, mental health may result in work-related suicide attempts and men working in construction are shown to have an increased risk. Explained employment law expert Sarah Hall of Hay & Kilner Law Firm: “Such reports are a tragic reflection of the long-term impact that stress in the workplace may have on workers.  Fortunately, this situation is not common, but demonstrates why it is so important for organisations to face up to the challenge of employee wellbeing.   Employees need to feel supported and not worried about what will happen if they speak up. That comes down to having the right culture in the organisation.”

She added: “A good starting point is to review processes and practice to see whether they provide support and protection from unfair or discriminatory treatment and to ensure that managers are appropriately trained.  If there are gaps, then make sure they are closed.  In the same way that employees with physical issues may need to be supported to fulfil their role, by seeking out reasonable adjustments to support them, the same applies for employees with mental health issues”

For employers seeking guidance on this subject, our Employment Team offer advice, management training and policy reviews, to ensure companies are doing as much as they can, and in the right way, to encourage employee wellbeing. For more information please call 0191 232 8345.