With Mental Health Awareness Week beginning today, the issue of mental health in the workplace is back under the spotlight. Employers should be using this opportunity to review how they support staff at work and to improve and refine their practices and policies.
Employers have a duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of their staff at work and this includes taking reasonable care to prevent mental health issues occurring. Ignoring stress-related symptoms and other indications of mental health should not be an option for employers. A massive culture change in how this issue should be addressed over the past few years has helped but a positive and proactive approach from employers is a must.
The law also prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the grounds of a protected characteristic. Some mental illnesses will constitute a disability under the Equality Act 2010 where these have a substantial and long term effect on their ability to do normal day to day activities. This means employers cannot treat employees less favourably because of their mental health. There is also a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to avoid disadvantages faced by disabled employees. This is a positive duty to take reasonable steps to remove or reduce the obstacles the employee is facing at work because of a mental illness.
Employers need to ensure they are training and supporting line managers, and all managers, in the workplace to present the correct working culture and help identify issues as these arise. Managers should receive appropriate training in communication, setting achievable targets, managing performance and providing feedback. Identifying mental health issues as early as possible will help when looking to provide workplace support. Disclosing mental health issues is not the easiest thing for employees so it’s essential that open and honest communication is supported by members of management.
It’s important employers are recognising that working demands and pressures have a significant impact on the mental wellbeing of their staff. A recent CIPD report found that the increase in technology and remote ways of working meant that staff felt they could not switch off after working hours. Setting out the company’s expectations about working hours, working from home and switching off will allow employees to have a greater work/life balance and feel that they can put down their workplace technology outside of working hours.
Providing workplace support and highlighting courses or advice staff can seek is an important way of emphasising the positive workplace culture around mental health. It also recognises that mental health issues that affect employees are not solely created by work issues but can be personal issues that lead to a lower performance at work. Providing employee benefits such as an Employee Assistance Programme, a confidential counselling service that provides round the clock support on a wide range of issues, is a small financial cost that helps employees deal with personal and workplace problems that can affect their mental wellbeing