Mental Health in the Workplace – Time for Change

posted by KeithDaniel

Saturday 10th October 2020 was World Mental Health Day and has been termed the most important one yet since World Mental Health Day was observed for the first time on 10th October 1992.

2020 has been a tough year for everyone and months of lockdown has significantly impacted the mental health of millions of people worldwide.

According to research undertaken by Mind, more than half of adults (60%) and over two thirds of young people (68%) said their mental health got worse during lockdown. As a result of the pandemic, many have developed new mental health problems and for some, existing mental health problems have worsened.

Quality Compliance Systems undertook a survey which discovered that only 14% of 2,000 workers pooled said they felt comfortable discussing their mental health worries at work, compared to 42% of workers who felt able to talk about physical conditions. This suggests that there still appears to be a stigma attached to mental health issues in the workplace. 

We are intrigued as to why. Maybe it’s because of the many misconceptions around mental health? Maybe it’s because HR professionals, managers and work colleagues do not have the confidence to address the issue in the same way they would with, say, a broken arm.   Perhaps it is too unpredictable or complex?  Despite the significant improvements in mental health awareness over recent years, our experience is that dealing with mental health concerns amongst the workforce remains a thorny subject for many organisations and is often swept under the carpet. Clearly something needs to change.

ACAS has produced a number of helpful resources concerning supporting mental health in the workplace which can be accessed here.

We have also set out below a few key pointers to help organisations move towards a more open, supportive workplace culture.

Talking to an employee

A line manager who believes that a member of staff may be experiencing mental ill health should take the lead and attempt to speak to the staff member in private. As well as remaining supportive throughout the meeting, the line manager should also:

  • Ensure that they are not distracted (e.g. computers and mobile phones should be turned off);
  • Listen actively and be sympathetic and understanding;
  • Use open questions;
  • Reassure the individual that they are there to help them and offer support; and
  • Remain open minded.

Whilst a lack of knowledge can be a defence to some disability discrimination claims, knowledge doesn’t need to be actual, it can be implied based on what the employer does know and the conduct it observes.

Although you cannot force an employee to share details of their health, it may be helpful to explain that without a clear understanding, the opportunity to provide support may be missed.

Do not under estimate the importance of line managers

Line mangers play an important role in promoting good health in the workplace. They are usually the ones responsible for dealing with mental health in the workforce day to day. However, many can lack the confidence or experience to manage this alone. Therefore, consider putting in place support and training to help them recognise the early signs of a mental health condition. Make it clear that they are not expected to become experts in mental health or to handle problems alone – instead they are there to flag problems and signpost the support and resources available.

Create a mental health policy

A consistent approach towards mental health issues is imperative. A mental health policy will go some way to achieving this – line managers can refer to one document when requiring guidance to ensure that a consistent approach is taken. A policy also helps communicate the organisation’s commitment to promoting positive mental health in the work place.

Draw upon specialist resources

Many mental health charities are happy to provide support to both employees and employers who are struggling to address mental health issues. Making sure the employee is aware of these organisations and also speaking to them yourself will help you understand what resources may be available to the organisation.

Employers can benefit by setting a clear internal approach to mental health and drawing on ever-increasing levels of external expertise and resources. Those that don’t are going to be at a competitive disadvantage and may even be exposed to disability discrimination claims.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any other aspect of employment law at 029 2034 5511 or employment@berrysmith.com