Mental Health in the Workplace – a time for change?

October brought World Mental Health Day 2017. This year’s theme was all about tackling the issue of mental health in the workplace.

It is estimated that 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem each year.  Worryingly 9 out of 10 of those people believe there is a stigma attached to mental health issues in the workplace and consequently they suffer in silence. 

I am 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 if it was 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 – not least because employees’ mental health is integral to how they feel about their jobs, how they interact with colleagues and customers and ultimately how they perform in their role.

ACAS have produced a helpful step by step guide for employers and senior managers, setting out how organisations should approach change in the workplace to promote positive mental health. The guidance can be accessed here, and I also set out a few key pointers to help organisations move towards a more open, supportive workplace culture.

Talking to an employee

If you are worried about an employee, tell them your concerns, ask them how they are and what support they need. 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.

Although mental health seems to have been accepted into the mainstream political dialogue, it is clear that there is still some way to go in tackling this subject.  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.

Mental Health

If you would like to discuss this issue or have any other questions about this topic then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Sarah Alford, at and 02920 345511.