20 Apr Mental health in the workplace
Mental health issues can affect one in four people at some point in their lives and have a significant impact on their well-being.
There are many types of mental health issues, including stress, which can be work-related, depression and anxiety.
As you may be aware, employers have a duty to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their employees, including mental health and wellbeing. Employers must provide a safe working environment, protect staff from discrimination and carry out risk assessments.
Disability discrimination provisions in the Equality Act 2010 encompass many mental health illnesses which may legally be classed as a disability if the illness has a substantial adverse effect on the employee’s life, it lasts for 12 months or more, or has the potential to, and it affects their ability to carry out normal day to day activities. If it meets these criteria, it will qualify for protection under the Act. Importantly, a mental health issue can still be considered as a disability if the symptoms are not present all of the time.
We’re all individuals, and employees with the same mental health condition can experience different symptoms and to varying degrees. There is more awareness regarding mental health today, however there is still an underlying stigma attached to it. Employers should take mental health seriously and champion a stress free workplace; training their management team to be alert to the early signs of stress and mental ill health, and to ensure they know how to respond. A mental health issue can happen suddenly, perhaps in response to events that are happening in their lives at that time, or it can build up gradually over time. Early signs could include the employee needing to take a lot of time off work, a decrease in their productivity, the employee may withdraw from colleagues, perhaps getting easily frustrated or agitated and mood swings or erratic behaviour.
It’s important all managers feel confident to have supportive conversations around mental health, including recommending a GP visit, signposting employees to appropriate counselling, perhaps an employee assistance programme or occupational health services and to make work adjustments where needed. Employers who offer an employee assistance programme and/or counselling services should remember to signpost employees to access them.
Good people management can prevent stress in many cases, which can lead to greater staff productivity, morale, reduced sickness absence and ultimately retention.
Employers should be aware of employees who are struggling with perhaps unmanageable workloads as this is one of the main causes of work-related stress. We advise managers meet with employees regularly on a 1-2-1 basis, enabling the employee to raise any concerns or frustrations regarding their work or workload. If the employee feels they can talk openly about mental health, and they’re in a supportive work environment, problems are less likely to build up.
Long hours is another common cause of stress, so promoting a healthy work-life balance, perhaps by offering flexible working arrangements, could be an adjustment for someone who is returning to work following mental ill health, or to help prevent stress if someone wants a better work-life balance to suit their individual circumstances.
You may also wish to introduce a health and wellbeing policy, encompassing the commitment of the Company in promoting employee health and wellbeing, the responsibilities of the directors, managers as well as employees and the available advice and support. The policy should also include the process for evaluating the effectiveness of all wellbeing initiatives.
Employers should also be mindful during the recruitment process, if an employee discloses a mental health issue in their application, or at the interview stage, you make clear the Company is committed to fostering a mentally healthy workplace, particularly today, as Covid-19 has impacted in many ways on people’s mental wellbeing, with many having to juggle caring responsibilities and work.