Mental health in the workplace

Mental Health Awareness Week, which took place in May this year, helped to highlight how many people suffer from a range of mental health issues and address the importance of addressing these problems at an early stage.

The statistics below are staggering and provide a reality check for those who don’t think that mental health is a workplace issue.

• 70 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to mental health problems
• Work related mental health issues cost UK companies £26 billion each year
• One in six UK workers experience depression, anxiety and unmanageable stress on a yearly basis

While there is no simple system to prevent mental ill health, the following steps can help you minimse the chance of an issue occurring in the workplace and will help you manage an issue if it does.

Prevention

• Ensure your employees know how they fit into their team and how their role fits within the organisation.
• Clearly communicate to employee’s their job/role requirements and your expectations.
• Have regular discussions with employees to review their workload so you can make changes if necessary.
• Educate your employees about mental health so they understand the issues and feel more comfortable talking about them.

Identification

• Know the potential indicators of mental health problems, such as a decline in productivity or communication, a change in typical behaviour, uncharacteristic errors or other symptoms of stress.
• Be aware of stressor factors and workplace triggers that may affect an employee’s abilities to manage mental health conditions such as heavy workloads, increase in responsibility, lone working and poor communication.
• Create time to talk confidentially and openly with employees to provide them with the opportunity to share any worries or issues they may have.

Action

• Make the first move to start the dialogue with questions that are simple, open and non-judgemental to give the employee the opportunity to explain in their own words.
• Avoid making assumptions and trying to guess what symptoms an employee might have, how they feel and how these might affect their ability to do their job.
• Embed confidentiality by including as few people as possible and reassuring the employee that any information disclosed will not be shared with their colleagues.
• Maintain clear records of all discussions and processes and treat matters with the appropriate level of confidentiality.
• If you feel necessary, obtain medical advice to allow you to judge the likelihood of future absences and for advice before making any decisions.
• Respond flexibly where possible. Workplace adjustments for mental health are generally less tangible and relate to negotiating the social world rather than physical world of work.  Adjustments can be simple, low cost and general changes such as changes to start and finish times, changes to role (temporary or permanent), phased return to work or extra training or mentoring.

It is worth noting that mental health conditions can amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010 if they last, or are likely to last, for 12 months or more and have a substantial adverse effect on the individual’s ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.  So it is important to refrain from discriminatory practices and in, certain circumstances make reasonable adjustments to employees working conditions when you are aware of the individual’s disability.

For further guidance on this or other workplace issues, contact our HR specialist Lynn Bradley on 01484 841776 or send us an email on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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