Over the past year, we’ve all had to deal with change. Change in the way we live, work and socialise. These changes have meant that the mental health and wellbeing of employees has had to become a focus for employers. With 30.9% (7.4 million adults) people reporting that their well-being has been affected by loneliness in 2020, suggesting a direct link with remote working, employers have a legal duty to take practical steps in helping their employees.
In this article, we cover the things employers can do to address mental health issues at work.
Is it really a legal duty for employers to protect the mental health and wellbeing of employees?
Yes, employers have a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of staff whilst at work. This includes both physical and mental health. Those employees who suffer ongoing mental health problems are also protected by the Equality Act (2010) which requires the employer to make reasonable adjustments where the employee’s condition has an impact at work.
What can you do as an employer?
To successfully promote positive mental health and encourage staff to talk openly, managers and employees need to be fully informed about available support, which may include:
Mental Health Audits
Placing confidential self-rating sheets in communal areas / online will allow people to assess how they are feeling at any given time across several criteria. This will provide greater insight into how employees actually are, rather than simply asking them if they are ok. It is also a less intimidating way for employees to admit they are struggling.
Appraisal and Feedback Systems
Ensuring staff have regular one-to-ones with their line manager may help you to identify if any are having problems. Pro-active wellbeing conversations could also be encouraged as standalone initiatives. Appointing wellbeing champions or a ‘buddy system’ is also a valuable tool, so that those employees suffering know who to go to and can feel more comfortable in approaching the subject.
Mental Health First Aid & Training
Taking a whole organisational approach to mental health is best which will involve putting in place:
- Line Manager Training
- Policies & Procedures
- Clear Support Systems including a Mental Health First Aider within the team.
Workplace & Job Design
It is important to note that an employee who is suffering from mental health issues may be considered to have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 and if so, the employer has a duty to make any reasonable adjustments which may help them to overcome the impact on their work. This may include changes to their job or workplace, such as:
- Flexible working hours, i.e. working from home on set days or when required
- Right to be excused from work events and/or late/early starts and finishes due to medication
- Access to necessary equipment
- Allowing for regular increased breaks
- Transferring some responsibilities/tasks
Support for Mental Health-Related Absence
Whilst it has been proven that the previously described proactive interventions will likely improve the mental health of your workforce and play a crucial part in removing the stigma related to mental health, sometimes absences will occur due to mental ill health. It can be daunting to try to manage these situations without the relevant knowledge or experience.
Utilising our expert guidance in what is an employment law minefield can be critical in supporting an employee to return from such an absence and reduce the likelihood of further absences, along with protecting the employer from possible litigation.
We hope you have found this article useful. If you need support in implementing any of the steps mentioned, we have an accredited Mental Health First Aider who can support you. Please get in touch to find out more.