Mental health is about how we think, feel and behave. It can go up and down, or around and around and different scenarios can place us in different places mentally. Laura Kirkpatrick is an Associate in our Employment and HR department and has provided the following advice on how businesses can look to manage mental health within the workplace.
Positive mental health allows us to make the most of things, cope with day to day life and play a full part in the workplace. However, mental health issues can destabilise us and make it difficult for us to enjoy our jobs, perform well or even interact with colleagues and clients.
According to the charity Mind, one in six employees experiences work-related stress, anxiety and/or depression and cost businesses in excess of £40 billion per year due to absences. It is vital that employers commit to managing mental health at work, by improving awareness, eradicating the sources of stress and by creating a positive culture that fully supports staff.
How to improve awareness?
Employers should be aware of their legal obligations in that they have a duty to take reasonable care to ensure employees are not put at risk through excessive pressures or demands arising from the way their work is organised. Additionally, if an employee is suffering from a mental health impairment that is substantial, long term and has a negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities, this could constitute a disability meaning the employer has to consider making ‘reasonable adjustments’ to avoid the individual being put at a disadvantage compared to non-disabled employees.
Improving awareness within the workplace encourages employees to care for themselves and help provide support to others who might be struggling. Mental health policy will show a commitment to managing these issues and will highlight that mental health is approached professionally and sensitively by employers. A policy should be well thought out and easily accessible. It should recognise what mental health is, the causes of negative mental health in the workplace, how any stigma can be removed, and it should encourage employees to come forward to benefit from support. Having a policy will provide clarity which will reassure staff and in turn make it less likely to remove themselves from the workplace and go on a period of sick leave.
Can we eradicate mental health problems in the workplace?
Employers can certainly take steps to prevent mental health problems in the workplace. Firstly, employers can work with its employees to identify possible causes of mental health problems through meetings, informal chats, surveys and anonymous feedback, perhaps using comment boxes. Common causes of stresses which can lead to mental health problems within the workplace are unsustainable workloads, difficult relationships and performance issues. Employers can also consider effective preventative measures such as flexible working hours, changes to roles, increased support from managers or extra training or mentoring. Addressing these issues will demonstrate that the employee is supported in turn can make them feel less anxious about coming to work and prevent long term ill mental health that may lead to prolonged absence.
Educating employees or line managers to be ‘mental health first aiders’ who identify signs of mental distress and provide support to their colleagues on a confidential basis may also encourage affected employees to come forward before their problems intensify. This may also reduce any fear and stigma attached to seeking help and will assist the employer and employee identity issues and put a plan in place to deal with challenges swiftly and sensitively.
Employers can also set out those standards it expects of staff to improve and maintain their mental wellbeing taking great care to put in place reasonable adjustments wherever they can to avoid potential conflicts and in the worst-case scenario the ugly spectre of claims being brought for either disability discrimination or personal injury.