Mental health management in the workplace

12 March, 2018
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

One in six employees is likely to be suffering from a mental healthMental Health illness at any one point in a given year. The impact can be severe on the individual personally,  but also on the employer, with the cost to UK employers as a result of mental health issues estimated at up to £42 billion per year.

Whilst there is growing public and political awareness of the need to address mental health issues in society, employers are increasingly struggling to effectively manage employee mental health. This blog addresses the impact on a business from poor mental health management and outlines practical steps an employer can take to create a culture that combats mental health issues in the workplace.

Impact

Employers not only have a moral duty to promote employee mental wellbeing, but there are legal and economic factors which make it a commercial incentive.

A recent study into workplace mental health found that low levels of employee wellbeing affects employees’ general health with long working hours, for example, causing a 20% increase in mortalities. Personal lives are also negatively impacted, with one in four adults suffering from mental health problems falling into debt as well as the negative impact on ones family.

From a legal perspective, employees are increasingly holding their employer to account for either breaching their duty of care in relation to mental health in the workplace under the Health and Safety Act 1974 or disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The latter tends to pose more issues for employers since there is no qualifying service required to bring a claim and there is no cap on compensation for a successful claim.

A further business incentive for promoting wellbeing is increased levels of employee productivity. Staff turnover and absenteeism through sickness are major costs to businesses, but so is the issue of presenteeism (where employees are in work for longer than is required but are performing at less than full capacity because of ill health). Presenteeism poses additional complications because employees tend to be suffering in silence, rather than seeking medical help and recovering at home.

Lastly, businesses ought to consider the reputational benefits of promoting mental well being and tackling ill health – both internally and in society.

Practical measures

Employers should be pro-active in implementing measures to recognise, prevent, and manage, mental health issues within an organisation.

Recognise

Common causes of mental ill health include harassment, bullying, and stress (often caused by heavy workloads). Managers should be trained to recognise symptoms of ill health such as poor timekeeping, increased sickness absence, unproductivity, and certain physical changes including appearance, weight and irritability. HR teams should carefully review sickness absence patterns and appreciate that other reasons for sickness may be given in order to avoid disclosing mental ill health. Performance reviews and appraisals are a good opportunity for businesses to engage with employees about any issues they are having.

Prevent

Employers can prevent mental ill health through promoting healthy work-life balances, such as flexible or agile working initiatives, and implementing mindfulness and wellbeing programmes for staff. Confidential helplines or support networks should be advertised as well as providing regular training sessions to staff at all levels in order to raise awareness and tackle the stigma attached to mental health. Managers ought to consider how projects are allocated to staff so that employees are not being over-worked. Lastly, employers should put in place company policies relating to equality, anti-bullying and harassment, and health and safety.

Manage

It is important to open dialogue with affected employees as early as possible. Regular meetings should be arranged to monitor their health and address any concerns the employee may have. Employers must consider what reasonable adjustments can be made to assist affected employees, for example, flexible working arrangements and flexible deadlines may help the individual concerned. Medical professionals should be consulted to better understand the illness in question and their practical advice can then be implemented. It is also important to document all discussions and processes to avoid legal risk.

If you have any questions about mental health in the workplace please get in touch with Emma.saunders@crippspg.co.uk.

This year Cripps Pemberton Greenish is proud to support “Rethink Mental Illness” who provide a range of services to individuals affected by mental ill health. For more information about their programme please visit their website here.