Mental Health

It’s a deeply sobering statistic.

But the experts at mental health charity Mind say that one in four of us will have a mental health issue of some sort this year.

It is the leading cause of sickness absence in the country, costing UK employers some £2.4 billion per year.

No wonder that October 9 was officially classified as national Mental Health Awareness Day.

One of the key messages of the day was simple: Mental health issues are something we can all help tackle.

And that most definitely includes us as employers.

As employers we can ask ask ourselves some fundamental questions: Do our staff feel comfortable talking about their problems? Do they hide their worries and mask the issues? Do we know if they are able to talk about their feelings at work? Do they feel confident letting others know how they are feeling and feel safe to do so?

Organisations can have a real impact on the people within them if everyone is aware they have a part to play.

That’s because mental health is everyone's business and responsibility - whether that is in terms of maintaining our own mental health or being respectful and supportive of the health of others.

So what can be done?

Well, organisations should adopt a positive attitude towards those experiencing or recovering from mental health issues.

Where possible, reasonable adjustments should be made to make sure that people with a mental health issue can access employment and make a positive contribution to the organisation.

Increasing awareness of mental health issues across the workforce can help to break the stigma which still surrounds it and build a more open and inclusive culture.

Managers need training to feel confident about having conversations with staff and know how to point people towards specialist sources of support where appropriate.

Good line management can help manage and prevent stress which can be linked to common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Managers who provide clear objectives, feedback and support to their staff and proactively manage conflict can help to create positive working environments which foster employee well-being and resilience.

Employers and managers should be alert to the early signs of mental ill health and know how to respond and signpost to support services. Early intervention can help prevent issues from escalating, but employers should not give advice about a mental health issue as they are rarely qualified to do so.

Long-hours working always takes its toll on people. Striking the appropriate balance between work and personal life means people remain fresh and productive.

Flexible working – where possible - can reap dividends for both employee and employer. People will be better able to balance the demands on them from all aspects of their life and be more focused and productive when in work.

A well-being policy should cover both physical and mental health, and:

  • begin with a clear statement which commits the organisation to developing a working environment that promotes employee health and well-being

  • be championed by senior management

  • be kept under constant review, together with other policies, procedures and initiatives to ensure that they optimise employee well-being

  • outline how staff feedback will be sought

  • identify key well-being indicators

  • set out the available advice, support and training to enhance employee well-being

  • incorporate the process for evaluating the effectiveness of all well-being initiatives.

Although it’s useful to have a broad policy which demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to supporting staff well-being, members of staff must be treated as individuals as they will have varying needs and require different support.

Finally, this isn’t just about employee well-being. It’s also the law.

In the UK, the disability discrimination provisions in the Equality Act 2010 encompass many mental illnesses which can legally be classed as a disability. A range of mental health conditions may qualify a person for protection under the Act providing there is a substantial and long-term effect (for at least a year) on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day duties. Mental impairments do not need to be clinically well-recognised to qualify as a disability.

If you would like to discuss these issues, or other HR concerns then please

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