Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

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October 10th marked Mental Health Awareness Day. Although the day has ended, employer’s efforts to acknowledge and help those dealing with mental health issues shouldn’t end with it.

In this article, the MIA’s Business Support Helpline partner, Croner, explores what can be done to improve mental health in the workplace.

There isn’t one definitive factor that is responsible for an overall decline in mental health. Many point the finger at a generation plagued by technology and social media, others blame a lack of awareness and an overbearing stigma.

Whatever your situation, whichever stance you take, it remains clear that more must be done to improve mental health, not only in workplaces, but everywhere.

As it currently stands for employers:

  • Your employees’ mental health can be the difference between your organisation’s success and failure. Mental health carries a lot of implications, including: productivity, absence, cost, behaviour, conflict, and more.
  • A sobering statistic reveals that 70 million working days are lost each year due to mental health problems, costing employers between £33 and £42 billion, accentuating just how substantial the issue has become in the working world.

Different pieces of legislation detail different areas of dealing with mental health, from identifying it to making the necessary adjustments. While steps are being made to overcome the stigma attached to mental health issues, and preventative and protective measures are being put in place, many employers still adopt a ‘head in the sand’, nonchalant approach.

So, what can be done to improve mental health?

  1. Be Proactive, not Reactive

Take the time to identify any indication of poor mental health in your workplace. The first step towards dealing with mental health can often be the hardest one, for fear of making matters worse. But by spotting signs of mental ill-health early, employers can often prevent it escalating.

Taking a proactive approach also reduces the risk of having to deal with the detrimental consequences of discrimination claims.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees because of a mental or physical disability. To be answerable for alleged disability discrimination an employer has to know, or be in a position where they should have known that the employee was disabled. With compensatory awards for disability discrimination claims being uncapped and the abolishment of tribunal fees, the government drive is clear, ensuring that employers are actively managing disabilities.

The Equality Act 2010 promotes a legal obligation for employers to make reasonable adjustments for employees suffering from a disability, and failure to do so can also be classed as disability discrimination.

  1. Know the Signs

Unfortunately, mental health is such a fluid term that individuals suffering from poor mental health/mental illness often have a hard time recognising that something isn’t quite right, let alone employers spotting a problem.

Two employees with the same condition may have entirely different symptoms and coping mechanisms, and some may never exhibit any symptoms at all. This means that having one-to-one conversations and promoting an open environment is essential.

With that being said, ACAS have identified some common signs to watch out for, including:

  • changes in usual behaviour, mood or how they interact with colleagues
  • changes in the standard of their work or focus on tasks
  • appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn and reduced interest in tasks they previously enjoyed
  • changes in appetite and/or increase in smoking or drinking
  • increase in sickness absence and/or turning up late to work.
  1. Manage the Issue Properly

The return to work meeting is a great starting point and its consistent implementation is likely to help employers underpin such illnesses as early as possible.

A one to one welfare review process can give you a detailed view of the employee’s situation and allows consideration for reasonable adjustments, as legally required under the Equality Act 2010. A medical opinion from a GP, Consultant or Occupational Health Advisor is also key to this process, which will assist with the review and recommendations for reasonable adjustments.

Reasonable adjustments can vary and are likely to depend on the facts of the individual case, but can include reduction in hours, workload, allocation of a different type of work etc. A broader approach appears to be necessary according to the Stevenson and Farmer Review; ensuring a culture where employees are more open to talking about their mental health. Published guidance by ACAS supports the embedding of a proactive approach to mental health in the workplace. Some examples include the introduction of a mental health policy, provision of training for managers, educating the workforce promoting physical and mental wellbeing, provision of a supportive, professional and confidential environment for employees to voice their issues. In the employer’s interest, all related processes should be well documented for reference and evidence purposes.

  1. Implement an Employee Assistance Programme

Employee Assistance programmes (EAP) are employee benefit programmes offered by many leading employers. EAPs help employees deal with personal problems that might adversely impact their work performance and health and wellbeing. EAPs generally include assessments, short-term counselling and referral services for employees and their immediate family.

Our partner company, Health Assured, offers an EAP that gives your employees independent and, most importantly, confidential advice about all aspects of their work and personal life. We help to resolve issues before they affect work and increase resilience to stress. By enabling your staff to weather personal and professional challenges more easily, they improve their attendance and productivity at work.

Expert Advice

For any assistance and advice managing mental health or handling a specific situation, please contact the Business Support Helpline included in your MIA membership.

 Email alice@mia.org.uk or call 01403 800500 for the exclusive Business Support Helpline scheme number.

www.croner.co.uk