Removing the stigma: promoting positive mental health at work
Trainee Solicitor Sophie Allinson gives a guide to employers on promoting positive mental health at work.
With more than 1 in 7 people reported to experience issues with mental health at work at any one time and with mental ill health accounting for almost 13% of sick days, it’s believed that promoting positive mental health at work could save UK businesses up to £8 billion each year.
Mental health is regarded as the emotional and mental state of a person when dealing with the pressures of daily life.
Factors in both an employee’s personal and professional life can impact upon their mental health at work.
Whilst an employer has little control over the factors affecting an employee outside of work, the following are common causes of problems regarding mental health at work:
- poor relationships with colleagues;
- lack of control over work;
- unhealthy work-life balance;
- overbearing workload and/or duties;
- lack of variety or opportunity for career progression.
Why is positive mental health at work beneficial?
Promoting positive mental health at work can lead to open discussion of issues that employees are facing and an increase in an employer’s ability to spot mental health issues. This in turn reduces the stigma around the topic and can aid an employee addressing any issues relating to mental health at work.
Together with an increased level of support, this may lead to an earlier recovery for the employee concerned and can prevent an employee’s mental health deteriorating to the stage where they are signed off or aid in the return of employees who are already off work.
In addition, employees with positive mental health at work are more likely to:
- work productively;
- have a positive attendance record;
- adapt well to any necessary changes in the workplace;
- interact well with colleagues and clients or customers.
Legal obligations of the employer
A further benefit of promoting positive mental health at work is that this better enables an employer to meet their legal obligations when dealing with mental health issues.
Where an employee has mental health issues which amount to a disability, an employer has an obligation to consider whether any reasonable adjustments can be made to assist them in carrying out their job.
The term ‘disability’ is defined as a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
Where an employee is suffering from problems regarding their mental health at work, there may be reasonable steps which can be taken to lessen the impact at work. A ‘reasonable adjustment’ is a change or modification in the workplace which reduces or removes the impact of the employee’s disability. Common adjustments include:
- flexible working or altered hours;
- changes in duties or role, either temporarily or permanently;
- increased support to manage workload;
- additional training and/or mentoring.
Employer’s circumstances and business models are all unique. As a result, what is considered to be a reasonable adjustment by the employer is dependent upon factors such as the size of the organisation and what resources it has available.
Steps to promote positive mental health
Identify causes/Risk assessment
It is advisable to identify any potential causes of problems in mental health at work. Once these are identified, the employer then needs to consider what reasonable steps could be taken to lessen their impact or remove the risk all together.
Create a mental health at work policy
Employers should consider creating a mental health at work policy. This should cover the employer’s commitment to improving and managing mental health at work. Employees should be encouraged to raise any mental health issues at an early stage. The policy should also cover the support services in place for those suffering from mental ill health.
Review related policies
Policies which may relate to issues with mental health at work, such as absence and sickness, bullying and harassment, performance management and whistleblowing, should also be reviewed. This ensures a consistent approach is applied across all policies.
In order for positive mental health at work to be promoted throughout every level of an organisation, it is necessary for staff to be aware of mental health issues, of the possible causes and of the support available. Policies are useful for setting out the general position, but positive actions should also be taken to instil confidence and create awareness. Educating staff on mental health is one way to achieve this.
Mental Health Champions
Employees may be hesitant to raise issues relating to mental health at work directly with their managers. In order to combat this, employers may choose to appoint certain employees as Mental Health Champions. These employees would receive training regarding how to identify and combat mental health issues at work and would serve as employees’ first point of contact should any issues arise.
Work with Trade Unions/representatives
Trade Unions or other representatives may have previous experience of dealing with issues relating to mental health at work. As a result, they may be able to offer advice and guidance on preventing and dealing with issues should they arise. They may also provide a useful method of communication with employees.
Promoting Mental Health at Work
On 11 October 2018, Burnetts is hosting, in partnership with Carlisle Eden Mind, ACAS and CIPD Cumbria, an interactive and practical conference, focussed upon promoting improved mental health at work. The event is taking place at the Rheged Centre, Penrith and to book your place, click here.
If you would like advice regarding improving mental health at work, please contact the Employment Law & HR team on 01228 552222.
About the Author
Sophie is a Solicitor in the firm's HR & Employment team.
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