After the high-profile support of Prince William and Harry, last month’s Mental Health Awareness week reinforced the need to prioritise mental wellbeing in modern society and in particular in the workplace. ACAS suggest that 1 in 4 of us suffer from mental health issues and the Mental Health Foundation report that two thirds of us will experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, with stress regarded as a key factor in this statistic.
How does this relate to your business?
ACAS report that mental health related issues account for an eye watering £30 billion of annual losses for UK employers in the context of lost productivity, recruitment and sickness absence. It therefore follows that tackling mental health should serve to improve employee performance, retention and attendance.
Mental health can also be linked to conduct. A Court of Appeal case reported last month considered a claim brought by a teacher suffering from cystic fibrosis who was dismissed without notice for showing an 18 rated horror film to a class of 15-year olds without the school’s approval or the parents’ consent. The teacher successfully argued that his dismissal amounted to discrimination arising from his disability as he suffered from stress (which was linked to his disability of cystic fibrosis) because of an increased workload. It has been reported that he was awarded almost £650,000 in compensation.
It is also the case that many mental health conditions will fall within the legal definition of a disability. In those circumstances, the employer is then legally obligated to take certain steps to remove the disadvantage that the disabled employee encounters, which might be by way of reasonable adjustments to their workload or hours of work, for instance.
The fact of the matter is that this issue can no longer be ignored – it is not going away.
What steps can you take?
- Consider introducing a Mental Health Policy and communicating to your staff a commitment to supporting those with mental health conditions. All too often employees feel unable to disclose their illness due to the stigma associated with mental illness;
- Provide training to managers, to help them identify the signs that suggest somebody is suffering from mental illness and how they can support them;
- Carry out a risk assessment within the workplace to identify areas where individuals may be more susceptible to stress and anxiety and consider what measures can be introduced to alleviate that. That might be simple steps like encouraging people to leave the office on time or ensuring that staff are not overloaded with work;
- Utilise the external resources available which provide helpful information and guidance on tackling mental health in the workplace. The Mental Health Foundation or Mind are good sources.
Richard Branson is famously quoted as saying that “a company’s employees are its greatest asset and your people are your product”. It therefore follows that insofar as mental health is concerned, taking steps to address this issue will not only improve the wellbeing of your staff, but also the overall health of the organisation.