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Workforce wellbeing must include mental health awareness

05 Nov 2019

Mental health in the workplace has inevitably begun to receive greater attention in recent years, and with this change a greater focus on employers’ responsibilities towards any staff facing mental health challenges and their wider workforce.

Mental health issues are acknowledged as one of the biggest causes of workplace absence, yet the definition is so wide, it can be hard for employers to know how to prepare for and respond to individual situations, as well as to fully understand their responsibilities towards their employees.

Research by mental health charity Mind found that more than one in five employees said they had called in sick as a result of workplace stress and more than half of the employers they talked to said they would like to do more to improve staff well-being, but didn’t feel they had the right training or guidance to help them do so. It is estimated that the cost of mental ill heath to UK employers each year is around £40 billion.

Whether work is causing a health issue or aggravating it, employers have a legal responsibility to help their employees. Work-related mental health issues must be assessed to measure the levels of risk to staff. Where a risk is identified, steps must be taken to remove or reduce it as far as possible. Some employees will have pre-existing mental health conditions when recruited or may develop one caused by factors that may or may not be work-related. Employers may also be under an obligation to make reasonable adjustments under equal opportunities legislation.

It is important that employers, managers and employees take steps to promote positive mental health, recognise the warning signs and support anyone experiencing mental ill health.

Hay & Kilner can provide practical guidance to help employers develop an appropriate workplace strategy which creates  the right working environment, supports employees, and allows them to  resolve any problems as they arise, thereby fulfilling their legal responsibilities around mental health. It is important managers are confident in supporting staff experiencing mental ill health, that they are able to spot the signs, know how to approach conversations sensitively and support their team members.

Mental Health at Work

By having strategies that focus on mental health as part of employee wellbeing, businesses can help drive individual support, as well as improving the bottom line. They may also avoid potential complaints or claims from staff.

In some cases, mental health issues may be classed as a disability under the Equality Act, which makes it unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled person less favourably because of their disability, without a justifiable reason. Mental health issues may be considered a disability if they have ‘a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to- day activities.’

Tips for employers include:

  • Develop a policy that addresses mental health issues with a clear route to raise any problems. This should be well published across the business, as well as being included in the staff handbook.
  • Encourage everyone to understand the issue, through disability and equality training, and equip line managers to identify potential mental health issues.
  • Establish support networks for employees to access, whether HR-led internal support or through external employee assistance programmes providing access to counselling, medical insurance or occupational health.
  • Whether recruiting, or with an existing employee, focus on the ability of an individual to do the job and, if they have any physical or mental impairments, consider whether reasonable adjustments could be made to enable them to fulfil the role.

For more information, please contact Sarah Hall, Partner in our Employment team on 01912328345.