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Are you considering the impact work has on your employees’ mental health?

10.10.2019

According to research carried out by mental health charity, Mind, a culture of fear and silence around mental health is costly to employers, with more than one in five saying they have called in sick to avoid work when feeling stressed, and 42% saying they had considered resigning when asked how workplace stress had affected them.

In the same study, 56% of employers said they want to improve staff well-being but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance in place to do so.

So what duty does an employer have in terms of workplace mental health?

According to a recent report from Business in the Community (BITC) and Mercer Marsh Benefits, 39% of workers in the UK experienced symptoms of poor mental health as a direct result of their job, and as we spend a great proportion of our lives in work, there is no doubt that it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure its employees feel well at work, both mentally and physically.

Work can aggravate pre-existing mental health conditions as well as bring symptoms on. Whether work is the cause or it’s an aggravator, employers have a legal responsibility to help their employees. Employers must assess any work-related mental health issues to measure the levels of risk to both the individual and colleagues, and take any steps to either remove it or reduce it.

Spotting the signs

Spotting the signs of stress or poor mental health at an early stage means managers have the best chance of capturing those problems before they escalate to absence. Triggers for poor mental health can include working long hours without taking breaks, high-pressure environments, unmanageable workload, negative working relationships or job insecurity. There may be external triggers, too, such as bereavement, relationship breakdown or long-term illness. Some of the signs that often go alongside these factors, and which you should look out for are:

  • Seeming subdued or withdrawing
  • Irritability or aggression
  • Increased smoking or drinking
  • Inconsistent performance
  • Nervous speech
  • Fatigue
  • Disruptive behaviour

If you think an employee is displaying signs of workplace stress or poor mental health, it’s crucial that line managers broach the subject early on to ensure that person’s needs are met and appropriate support is implemented. Basic good people management skills and the use of empathy are at the heart of effective management of mental health in the workplace. If an employee does not trust their line manager, they are unlikely to want to discuss a sensitive issue.

As well as seeming approachable, managers should be mindful of whether the workplace culture encourages people to talk about their mental health. Having a mental health policy or mental first aiders in place can help this, as well as taking part in mental health days or awareness weeks, or introducing wellness initiatives such as lunch time walking groups or mindfulness sessions.

Workplace adjustments

It may be that the support the employee needs involves adjustments to their working hours, i.e. flexible working, environment, i.e. provision of quiet rooms, or even their role, i.e. further training or support. Once an employer is aware of any health or disability information, they have a legal duty to consider making reasonable adjustments.

Absence from work due to poor mental health

Sometimes an employee may be so unwell that they need time off work to recover, whether the above steps have been taken or not. Employers will have their own sickness absence and return to work policies, so it’s important to check these over and ensure they’re clear, written in layman’s terms and legally enforceable. Get in touch with our employment law solicitors to discuss your contracts and policies, or to find out more about managing sickness absence in general.

Don’t forget, the way an employer manages mental health problems and sickness sends a message about the organisation’s values not only internally but externally as a recruiter and employer brand.

Further information

At Barcan+Kirby, we practise what we preach. 12 members of our staff are trained Mental Health First Aiders and are able to recognise common mental health issues and provide staff with the support or signposting they may need. We also have an Employee Assistance Programme which has introduced walking groups in each office and created a Mental Health and Well-being policy.

Barcan+Kirby champions mental health awareness with pioneering staff training

Our experienced employment solicitors can advise you on legal issues around repeated or extended sickness absence and help you to implement workplace sickness policy which safeguards both you and your employees.

To speak to our employment team in Bristol and South Gloucestershire about sickness policy, employee absence or any other aspect of employment law, call us on 0117 905 9763 or complete our online enquiry form.

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