Supporting employees with mental health conditions.

Last year the government commissioned a review into how employers can better support the mental health of those in the workplace. The report, ‘Thriving at Work’, found that:

  • there are more people at work with mental health conditions than ever before
  • around 15% of people at work have symptoms of a mental health condition.

You may think that these statistics suggest, along with well-publicised media campaigns to end the stigma around mental ill health, that those in the workplace with a mental health condition are now ‘thriving’ at work.

However, the report also found that:

  • 300,000 people with mental health conditions lose their jobs each year, a much higher rate than those with physical health conditions
  • the UK is facing a ‘mental health challenge at work’ much larger than that initially anticipated by the government.

This is largely because whilst employers recognise mental health as an increasingly important issue, they often don’t know how to best support employees with mental health conditions in the workplace. It is well recognised that for most people, remaining at work is beneficial to maintaining their mental wellbeing.

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a legal duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for an employee who has a disability, which can include a mental health condition if that condition has a substantial, adverse and long term effect on their normal day-to-day activities. The duty applies at every stage of employment, including recruitment, induction, training and throughout the employee’s development and career.

A reasonable adjustment may be a physical adaption to the workplace itself or an adjustment to work practices. Typically, adjustments for mental health conditions are small and inexpensive (many costing nothing at all), such as changing the employee’s working hours or breaks, adjusting their workspace, providing a ‘buddy’ and/or holding more regular one-to-one meetings with them.

Employers should be prepared to be flexible and creative in their approach to reasonable adjustments because every individual’s experience of a mental health condition is different. Two people with the same diagnosis may have different symptoms and may benefit from different adjustments.

Discussing the employee’s condition with them, in order to understand and attempt to meet their specific needs, is crucial in determining what adjustments to make. Advice and guidance from professionals, such as occupational health and the employee’s GP, is also invaluable in identifying adjustments.

Aside from the legal duty to make reasonable adjustments, proactively supporting employees with mental health conditions has wide-ranging and tangible benefits to a business, including reducing sickness absence, improving staff productivity and engagement, and reducing staff turnover, recruitment and costs. So it benefits everyone if employees with mental health conditions move from surviving to thriving at work.