Mental Health Awareness Week took place 13th to 19th May this year with the aim of raising awareness about the mental health problems affecting millions of people in the UK.

Clearly, we all have a part to play here and employers are no different.

What is mental health?

The World Health Organisation describes mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution towards her or his community”.

Mental health can range from anxiety and depression (said to be the most common mental health conditions) to severe mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Why should employer’s worry about this?

Surveys have shown that mental health issues are a major cause of long-term sickness absence from work. More than 30% of people have experienced mental ill-health while in employment, therefore it’s likely that most people in business will have been impacted by this in some way or another.

There is also the “pounds, shillings and pence” aspect, with it being reported that mental health problems cost UK employers £26 billion a year averaging some £1035 per employee!

Finally, there’s the legal position….

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 covers many mental illnesses which can (legally) be described as a disability. If an employee is suffering from something which is resulting in a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day tasks, this may be a disability under the Equality Act. If an employee has a disability, the employer has a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate their needs. No business, regardless of size, can “opt out” of this responsibility.

Recent figures have shown that disability discrimination claims have increased by 37%, from 4,770 in 2017 to 6,550 in 2018.

What can you do?

There are many different approaches that businesses could take, dependent upon resources etc, however there are a few fundamental things that could help to promote mental well-being, help your employees and contribute towards business effectiveness and protection.

As with many things this is likely to start at the top, good mental health should be promoted and be seen as part of the culture of the organisation. A commitment could be made from the top but it is important that this is followed up by awareness raising and training around mental health. At the heart of this will be the competence of leaders and managers, in particular whether you have managers that can have open and supportive conversations and feel confident that they have the skills to deal with this. Equally, these managers and leaders should have awareness of what can happen if they get things wrong. So, the development of people management skills should be at the heart of your training plans.

It is likely you will need to review roles, job design and workloads on an ongoing basis. This is not just because it is effective for your top and bottom line, but also because workload is often the main cause of work-related stress and this has undoubtably increased in recent times with cut-backs. You may want to consider whether the work-life balance is right for those that you employ and consider whether flexible working is not only a way of helping to stop mental ill-health but also how it can be used to help someone trying to return to work.

All-in-all. making this work in your business is likely to mean some proactive action but it can result in a more productive, happy work-force, management that are better equipped to deal and a business that is better performing and better protected.

If you would like any further information on this, or any other HR or Employment Law area, please don’t hesitate to contact our HR & Employment Law Expert, David Boland, on the details below:

David Boland
Managing Director
Direct Dial: 01942 292520
Mobile: 07786 376714