How employers can promote mental well-being at work

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According to research carried out by mental health charity, Mind, a culture of fear and silence around employee mental health is costly to employers. More than one in five employees said they have called in sick to avoid work when feeling stressed. 42% said 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, or staff simply haven’t felt comfortable sharing their struggles with them.

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. As we spend a great proportion of our lives at work, there is no doubt that it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure its employees feel well at work, both mentally and physically.

According to a study by HSE on work-related stress, anxiety and depression in the UK, depression or anxiety counted for 50% of all work-related ill-health between 2020 and 2021.

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 or reduce them.

Spotting the signs of poor mental health in employees

Recognising the signs of stress or poor mental health at an early stage gives employers the best chance of remedying any problems before they escalate to absence and long-term illness. Triggers of stress, anxiety and depression can include working long hours without taking breaks, high-pressure environments, unmanageable workload, having little or no support, 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. This can help you work together to ensure that their needs are met at work and appropriate support is implemented.

Empathy and communication are at the heart of good management skills, and establishing trust makes talking about the sensitive matter of mental health less daunting.

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 Health and Wellbeing First Aiders in place can help this. Also consider taking part in mental health awareness dates, or introducing wellness initiatives such as lunchtime walking groups or mindfulness sessions.

Improving work-life balance

Down-time and rest are crucial for healthy mental well-being. This is reflected in a survey by Randstad, which shows that work-life balance is voted as the top motivator for job-seekers in 65% of the UK population. As well as creating a workplace that appreciates employees’ time off, it must be inclusive and adaptable to each member of the team. Improving an employee’s wellbeing could be down to as small a change as adjusting their working hours, providing more comfortable office space, or introducing a group lunchtime walk. Making adjustments may be particularly valuable to those with disabilities. Once an employer is aware of any disability or health information, they have a legal duty to attempt to make reasonable adjustments for them.

Workplace adjustments

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

Flexible and hybrid working

Another great way of supporting employee mental health is introducing flexible and hybrid working. For example, an employee who is feeling over-worked and under pressure may benefit from adjusting work hours to fit around their family responsibilities. Similarly, hybrid working can support workers to have a change of scenery and balance busy office-based work with quieter, more private work from home.

At Barcan+Kirby, we have introduced hybrid working firm-wide, with our staff back in the office at least 50% of their hours. This supports company morale, flexible working arrangements, and improves communication between colleagues.

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. Make sure these policies are up-to-date, 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 MHFA England 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.

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

Get in touch with our employment solicitors in Bristol and South Gloucestershire

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 322 6602 or complete our online enquiry form.


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