Mental Health in the Workplace

Harriet Howes, Leathes Prior

Mental health and wellbeing is an issue which touches every corner of society. This year, a report by Business in the Community suggested that three in five (60%) employees have experienced a mental health problem due to work, or where work was a contributing factor. This World Mental Health Day, we look at why mental health in the workplace matters (with the help of a lot of statistics!) and what a modern employer can do to help.

What’s the issue?

Poor mental health has a negative effect on both individuals and businesses, so as an employer it is important to keep an eye on the mental wellbeing of your staff. Poor mental health can lead to increased short term absences, high turnover of staff and decreased productivity.

In addition, almost one in three (31%) employees have been formally diagnosed with a mental health issue. Where an employee’s poor mental health amounts to a disability, their employer may have to make adjustments to their employment or physical surroundings (where it would be reasonable to do so).

It is therefore in the best interests of both employers and employees to help ensure employees’ mental wellbeing is safeguarded.

What can employers do?

It is important to have an open dialogue about mental health concerns. Only 53% of employees feel comfortable talking about mental health issues at work, and only 11% of those who have suffered from a mental health issue have disclosed it to their line manager. This is perhaps unsurprising given that 15% of employees who disclosed a mental health issue to a line manager say that they then became subject to disciplinary procedures, dismissal or demotion.

Modern employers should encourage employees to come forward with issues which are causing stress or concerns at an early stage. This will allow managers to assess the scale of the problem, offer support to the employee if appropriate, make changes if appropriate, or offer additional training. Employees should be reassured that they will not be subject to disciplinary procedures as a result of declaring a mental health issue (and, legally, should not be so subject!).

Employees taking intermittent short-term absences from work can be disruptive to an employer’s business. When an employee takes time off due to mental health issues, communication is key. Employers may consider altering the requirement for employees to call in when they are off sick, instead offering email or text as a temporary option if it helps to overcome a boundary faced by an employee with a mental health problem. Equally, setting parameters for updates and communication is crucial – too little is just as bad as too often! Back-to-work meetings can be a helpful tool to assist those who may be struggling with their mental health and open up lines of dialogue.

Where absences are more long term, employers should attempt to keep lines of dialogue open. Offering support to employees whilst they are on a long-term sickness absence may help encourage them back to work and will also help the employer establish whether a disability has developed. This is important, as in some circumstances there is a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees.

It is also important that managers know how to tackle the issue of mental health absences and the conversations surrounding them. Training is therefore a key part of taking a proactive approach to mental health in the workplace. Whilst 84% of managers agree that the mental wellbeing of employees is their responsibility, only 24% of managers have received any training in mental health.

What are the benefits?

In short: happy, productive staff who aren’t suing you!

Taking a positive, proactive approach to mental health in the workplace can help reduce staff turnover, reduce the amount of work days lost to sick leave and ultimately make your business more productive and profitable. It also has huge reputational benefits and puts you a step on the road to truly being a “modern employer”.

If you would like more information on the content of this article and how you can take a proactive stance on mental health in the workplace, please call our Employment Team on 01603 281153.

Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any particular circumstance.

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