For some time now the mental health of individuals at work has been recognised as an issue that deserves recognition and respect. Whilst many employers understand the employee relations issues involved in supporting staff with mental health concerns, there has been an absence of legislative proposals from the government as to what the law can do to help tackle this issue, supporting both employees and employers.

Nick Bailey discusses recent proposals and what practical steps employers can take.

Mental health at work – current statistics

There is a wealth of data revealing the stark reality and impact mental health issues are having on UK businesses as well as our people:

  • The Health and Safety Executive reports that over 15 million working days were lost in the last year alone because of stress, depression and anxiety.
  • The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy has calculated that stress is costing British businesses £1,000 per employee per year in sick pay and associated costs.
  • The Centre for Mental Health research shows presenteeism for mental health is estimated to cost the economy £15.1 billion per annum.
  • The Independent Review into Mental Health in the Workplace 2017 reported that each year 300,000 people with long-term mental health conditions lose their job.

Sector trends

Aon’s Benefits and Trends Survey in 2018 which looks at people trends (including wellbeing) revealed interesting and surprising sector differences in the number of UK employers reporting employee stress and mental health-related illnesses. Of those employers surveyed by Aon, the Legal and Professional Services sector showed the highest incidence of employers (82%) that reported an increase in mental health-related illness in their workforces. Also high was the Technology sector, where more than three quarters (78%) of businesses noticed an increase. In the Finance sector it was 62% whereas 50% of Manufacturing and 40% of Pharmaceutical companies reported increases. Overall the UK figure of employers reporting an increase rose from 55% in 2017 to 68% in 2018.

The picture is also similar in the Hospitality Sector. In 2018, the Caterer ran a survey asking its readers about their experiences of mental health in the industry. Of the respondents, 59% considered themselves to currently have a mental health problem and 71% had experienced a mental health problem at some point. Of these, 51% had sought help or advice for it, but 56% said their employer was not aware of their mental health problem.

A legislative change?

Earlier this year MPs debated the question of introducing mental health first aid in the workplace on a more formal basis. As part of this debate Luciana Berger, the former Shadow Minister for Mental Health, brought a motion calling to introduce legislation that would necessitate that an employer’s first aid responsibilities cover both physical and mental health, as well as including a requirement for workplaces to specifically train mental health first aiders.

Whilst current health and safety legislation places a duty on employers to protect both the physical and mental health of its staff and have trained “physical” first aiders, it does not require employers to have trained workplace mental health first aiders. The proposed legislation would also enhance employee protection found under the Equality Act 2010, which obliges employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled individuals – which can include those disabled through mental health issues.

What next?

Issues surrounding protecting the mental health and wellbeing of our people are gaining traction in the HR space. Of course, as discussions continue over Brexit it is difficult to predict when any legislative change might occur; however, the costs of not tackling health and wellbeing issues cannot wait for legislation. Raising awareness amongst your managers and wider employee populations, being able to “spot” signs earlier as well as having specific Mental Health First Aiders and Champions are all steps to ensure that our people feel protected and able to discuss their concerns. It also means issues can be addressed and support offered earlier on that it might otherwise be.

Raising awareness of mental health issues – what employers should do now

Introducing a mental health wellbeing training programme can be the first step in highlighting issues within your workforce. This could take the form of a half day awareness course, a full-day “Champion” course or 2-day First Aider course. Our HR Training Academy is working with accredited mental health trainers to bring a range of courses and training opportunities for your people – at whatever stage your business is at – to help understand the issues, spot concerns early and help with the management of cases.