Last week’s death of superstar DJ Avicii has once again spun the spotlight back to mental health in the workplace. The 28 year old DJ had spoken about openly his health, including his struggles with anxiety and use of alcohol to help him cope with the pressures of being in the public eye. He was hospitalised for acute pancreatitis, reportedly caused by heavy drinking, and in 2016 announced his retirement from the music industry due to health reasons.
A documentary that was filmed before his death reveals that concerns about his mental health went further than previously known. In the documentary, Avicii: True Stories, Avicii said that he “was going to die” if he didn’t stop performing and had reportedly warned his management team repeatedly about the effect his job was having on his health. He told documentary maker Levan Tsikurishvili:
“I expected support, particularly considering everything I have been through. I have been very open with everyone I work with, and everyone who knows me. Everyone knows that I’ve had anxiety and that I have tried. I did not expect that people would try to pressure me into doing more gigs. They have seen how ill I have felt by doing it, but I had a lot of push-back when I wanted to stop doing gigs.”
With this in mind, what can employers and managers do to support employees who approach them with these concerns? Statistics show that one in four people will face mental health concerns. Whether they are high profile DJ’s or work in an office, what lessons should be learned from Avicii’s death in terms of how employers and HR approach the pressure their employees are under when they are suffering from mental health issues?
Pam Rogerson, HR Director for the ELAS Group, says:
“From a HR perspective, employers should always take mental health concerns seriously. If an employee is exhibiting signs of mental ill-health then we would always refer the employee to their GP and ask that they remain off work until their GP considers them fit for return. At the same time, we would put occupational health support in place and consider possible variations to the employee’s work to alleviate any work-related stress causes. There is a legal obligation on employers to consider reasonable adjustments to an employee’s role if their condition is a disability.
“We have seen time and time again that alcohol and substance use can be a symptom of deeper mental health issues so, while physical health symptoms stemming from abusing them are being treated, employers should also consider the reasons behind the abuse. If an employee is known to have an alcohol or drug problem then there are various options available to employers to offer help and support.”
Emma O’Leary is an employment law consultant for the ELAS Group. She says:
“The Equality Act provides protection from discrimination for anyone who suffers from a disability. Many mental health conditions are considered a disability within the meaning of the Act and, as such, there is a duty placed on employers to make reasonable adjustments for employees with these mental health conditions, and ensure that they are not treated less favourably on the grounds of their disability. This may include accommodating reduced hours and allowing increased time off for medical appointments/treatment.
“Failure to consider reasonable adjustments and/or treating the employee less favourably than you would any other employees can give rise to a discrimination claim. In addition, employers are under a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that employees do not suffer psychological harm as a result of their work. This could be by exacerbating an existing mental health condition or by not taking precautions to protect employees from developing a psychiatric illness (injury) i.e. work-related stress. It is therefore crucial that employers address any mental health concerns and put measures in place to support their employees. Employers who they fail to do so, especially if the employee makes them aware of their mental health condition(s), could find themselves on the receiving end of personal injury or other litigation claims.”