Mental Health Awareness Week (13 – 19 May 2019) has become a fixture in many workplace calendars and is a timely reminder of how important it is for employers to promote wellbeing and positive mental health, to support those suffering mental ill health such as work-related stress or depression and to tackle the stigma associated with it.
As well as the compassionate reasons for addressing this issue, there are good business reasons for doing so. The Stevenson/Farmer independent review Thriving at Work in 2017 found that organisations that had taken proactive approaches to improving the mental health of their employees had shown a consistently positive return on investment.
Conversely, a study by Deloitte found the annual cost to business resulting from poor mental health was between £33 and £42 billion as a result of less productive working practices due to presenteeism, and extra costs through sickness absence and staff turnover.
Employees with a mental health condition may be disabled under the Equality Act 2010 and employers are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for them. Failure to do so puts the employer at risk of claims for disability discrimination as does taking other detrimental action which is related to an employee’s disability such as disciplinary action or dismissal. As tribunal fees have now been abolished employees are more willing to bring claims if they consider they have been discriminated against and there is no limit on compensation that can be awarded for a successful claim.
There is a wealth of information and guidance on managing mental health in the workplace from organisations such as ACAS and the HSE aimed at educating employers to help them prevent or deal with issues arising that they would be well-advised to take into account.
Employers should also consider the “mental health core standards” recommended in the Thriving at Work review which it concluded are essential to enable employers to better support individuals with mental health conditions in the workplace. These “core standards” include:
- producing and communicating a mental health at work plan;
- developing mental health awareness among employees;
- encouraging open conversations about mental health and the support available;
- providing good working conditions and ensuring a healthy work/life balance;
- promoting effective people management and
- routinely monitor employee mental health and well being
The review also outlined a series of “enhanced” standards building on the core standards for employers who can and should do more to lead the way. These include demonstrating accountability, increasing transparency and the provision of tailored in-house mental health support.
Employers may also want to consider introducing mental health first aiders into the workplace. Mental Health First Aid England has published guidance on this which emphasises the importance of engagement by senior management and contains recommendations for reviewing current working practices and support.
Policies and training
Employers must ensure that they have in place policies and procedures so that employees suffering from issues related to work or outside the workplace which could impact on their mental health know who to talk to and feel supported which should also help prevent problems escalating. Relevant policies include Wellbeing, Equal opportunities, Anti-Bullying and Harassment and Grievance procedures.
It is also important to ensure that managers are trained in implementing these policies. It is not enough to have them in place without following them or taking action under them.
Employers should be ensuring year round that mental health is addressed as well as promoting initiatives during Mental Health Awareness week. Taking into account guidance, drawing up action plans and ensuring policies are in place and followed will go a long way to support those suffering from poor mental health and help promote positive wellbeing to the benefit of both employer and employee.