From the recent Mental Health Awareness Week to celebrity backed campaigns for awareness, the spotlight is fixed on the subject of mental health.
In this article we look at the legalities and also focus on some practical tips as to what employers can do to manage the very prevalent yet often misunderstood subject of mental health in the workplace.
If we look at some statistics first of all; 1 in 7 people experience mental health challenges at work (Research by Protectivity) and absences due to mental health problems cost our economy £1.4 billion a year (Sick Report 2019: the state of health and wellbeing in British SMEs). Add to this the fact that a diagnosis of mental illness is very likely to be classed as a disability in accordance with the Equality Act and it is clear that this is something that businesses certainly cannot afford to ignore.
What is meant by mental health?
Mental Health Charity Mind, provides some examples of the many types of mental health problems, for example:
· Depression (including post-natal depression, seasonal affective disorder)
· Anxiety problems (including panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder)
· Eating problems (such as binge eating, bulimia, anorexia)
· Obsessive-compulsive disorder
· Bipolar disorder (previously known as manic depression)
· Personality disorders
What can employers do?
- Meetings/open door policy
It’s important to keep good lines of communication open, particularly when supporting employees who may have mental health problems.
This gives an opportunity for employees to inform their employer if they feel under pressure, whether that be in their home lives or in the workplace.
It also gives the employer the opportunity to assess workloads and ensure that employees are not being unfairly overloaded.
- Be observant
Employers are not expected to medically assess their staff or be an expert in mental health but they do have a duty of care.
So if certain warning signs are becoming apparent such as, employees staying late frequently, appearing not to take time away from the work station for breaks, looking tired, being irritable or generally appearing distracted- don’t ignore it; check in on them.
Talking about mental health is challenging, mainly because sadly there is still considerable stigma surrounding mental health within society.
Consider for a moment the following phrases which may creep into the workplace
- ‘man up’
- ‘pull yourself together’
- ‘get a grip
Employees will not feel able to open up in work environments where there is a poor attitude towards mental health. However, poor attitudes and the use of language like the above could leave an employer exposed to claims of discrimination- for which the potential compensatory awards are uncapped.
Therefore it’s vital that employers commit to preventing any form of discrimination in the workplace and that includes discrimination in relation to mental health.
4. Annual leave
The purpose of annual leave is to ensure that employees have time away from work to properly rest and enjoy time with friends or family.
It is vital that employers regularly remind their employees that their leave must be taken within the holiday year and ensure their workplaces are appropriately resourced so that employees are not continually having requests for leave turned down or feel discouraged from asking for annual leave.
Be aware that payment in lieu of annual leave is unlawful, unless it is payment for untaken holidays on the termination of employment.
5. Reasonable adjustments
Employers have a legal obligation under the Equality Act to implement reasonable adjustments for those with disabilities.
For example, an employee may be placed on ‘light duties’ if their work involves heavy lifting whilst they are recovering from surgery but what kind of adjustments could be made for someone with mental health problems?
Examples can include:
- Adjustments to working hours e.g., later start times, earlier finishes, additional break times
- A phased return to work. For example, if an employee has been absent for several weeks due to an episode of depression they may benefit from a gradual return to their normal working hours and/or duties.
- Working from home
- Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP)
Many employers are investing in providing access to EAP’s for their employees.
They can provide confidential advice and support on a wide range of areas such as:
- Family- carers, child custody, relationship problems
- Health- both physical and mental health, many offer counselling services to assist with combating symptoms of depression and anxiety, bereavement, stress
- Financial matters
To conclude, there are a lot of ways an employer can be proactive in supporting employees with mental health problems and there is also a lot of support out there for employers, such as the government’s Access to Work scheme and organisations providing legal and HR advice to businesses.
It’s time to think outside the box and see if your working practices could be evolved because a proactive approach to mental health is not only good practice, it is also good business.
This article is written by Avensure’s HR24 free advice service for employers. If you have any concerns or would like further assistance or free advice on this topic or any employment law matter, please call 0800 015 2519 and visit our website at www.hr-24.co.uk.