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Nov 2017

Encouraging positive mental health in the workplace

Poor mental health in the workplace is now more prevalent than it has ever been. It is said that, each year, up to 300,000 people have to leave their jobs as a consequence of mental health issues, over 70 million working days are lost, and it is costing the UK economy a staggering £99bn. An employer’s ability to manage mental health in the workplace is fundamental. The outcome will be threefold: it will encourage a positive and productive working environment for employees, decrease the level of staff turnover and absence for employers and will reduce the cost to the UK economy.

The most important first step for employers is to create an open culture within the workplace, which encourages employees to discuss their mental health concerns. A study has shown that 67% of employees still feel scared, embarrassed or unable to talk about such concerns. It has been recommended that a ‘top down’ approach should be taken, by implementing training for Board Members and Line Managers to support staff that are affected by mental health. This should be done with a view to reduce the number of cases that go unrecognised until they become severe.

An independent review, “Thriving At Work” - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/thriving-at-work-a-review-of-mental-health-and-employers - was published in October 2017 and contains 40 recommendations as to how employers can support all individuals currently in employment who may be suffering from mental health issues. The Report suggests that employers should aim to:

  • Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan, which should be followed by all those responsible for the wellbeing of employees;
  • Develop mental health awareness amongst employees;
  • Encourage open conversations about mental health and increase the support available;
  • Provide employees with good working conditions and allow for a healthy work/life balance;
  • Promote effective people management; and
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.

The Report also suggests that employers (particularly larger organisations) should consult external bodies and regulators to provide an additional support structure for its employees.

Employer must also be aware of the importance of ensuring that there is not a disparity of treatment between [prospective] employees with mental health issues and other employees. This could increase the potential liability for disability discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 requires employers to make reasonable adjustments for an employee who may be at a disadvantage compared to someone who does not have a mental health problem. An employer’s duty to make such adjustments is based on them having knowledge of the mental health issue (the disability), and the adjustments can be made on a temporary or permanent basis. These can include, and are not limited to:

  • The implementation of flexible working or ‘working from home’ policies;
  • Changes to an employee’s working area;
  • Allowing an employee to take time off work to attend appointments relating to their disability; and
  • Re-allocating tasks that an employee may find stressful or difficult.

For further information, whether you are an employer or an employee, as to what your organisation should be doing to support and encourage positive mental health, please contact a member of our Employment team.

Article written by Sophie Wahba

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