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Mental health awareness at work: how to look after your staff

Posted by Laura kirkpatrick on 14th December 2017

 The BBC has reported that mental health sees 300,000 people leave their jobs each year.  This figure itself is not surprising in relation to the rising number of people affected by mental health: current statistics show 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year, with work cited as one of the main causes.

However, given the legislative duties employers are under with regards to looking after their employees, a figure of 300,000 is cause for concern. While public awareness and attitudes have shown widespread improvement in recent years, the suggestion that mental health still remains a taboo subject in the workplace only reiterates the fact that the stigma firmly remains.

Perhaps even more worrying is the statistics provided by The Mental Health Foundation, which shows:

  • 1 in 6.8 people experience mental health problems in the workplace (14.7%)
  • Women in full time employment are nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem compared to men in full time employment (19.8% v 10.9%)
  • Evidence suggests that 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions

Along with the reported estimate of a £42bn loss each year to employers due to staff suffering from mental health problems, being pro-active in understanding mental health and implementing a supportive work environment has never been so crucial – not only from a legal perspective, but also a business one.

Legally, employers are under a general duty to look after their employees. This includes ensuring their health, safety and welfare at work, so far as reasonably practicable (Health and Safety at Work Act 1974) alongside the requirement to make a suitable and sufficient assessment regarding employee health and safety risks (The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999).

An employer is similarly under an obligation to make reasonable adjustments if an employee is disabled. The Equality Act 2010 provides that a mental impairment constitutes a disability if it has a substantial and long-term (over 12 months) adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. If reasonable adjustments are not considered this could be grounds for a discrimination claim if an employee can demonstrate he/she was treated unfavourably because of their disability.

But what else can be done to manage and support employee welfare?

Though work itself may not be the cause of an employee’s mental health condition, the workplace environment can have a drastic impact on either aiding or prolonging recovery.

A combination of talking, identifying, promoting and supporting mental health is the best approach. To achieve this, the BBC put forward a number of suggestions, including:

  • Creating a mental health at work plan
  • Building mental health awareness by making information and support accessible
  • Encourage open conversations
  • Providing good working conditions and ensuring employees have a healthy work life balance
  • Promoting effective people management, with line managers holding regular conversations about health and well-being with their staff
  • Routinely monitoring employee mental health

Implementing health and welfare policies to this effect is cost effective and simple, yet it can have a powerful impact. In addition, applying the reasonable adjustment approach for any employee affected by mental health is encouraged as good practice.

Something as simple as encouraging open conversation or making yourself approachable can create a much more inclusive workplace for employees. Small adjustments like this can attract benefits that include increased productivity and job retention, while decreasing sickness absence and costs from staff turnover.

We can assist you in tailoring a mental health and wellbeing policy for your business or advise you in connection with your obligations as an employer in relation to your employees mental health.

Please feel free to contact Laura Kirkpatrick a solicitor in our Employment Team to discuss.

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