HR 8 May 2017

Employer responsibilities around mental health in the workplace

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It’s essential that open and honest communication is supported

Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, and business leaders should be reviewing how they support staff at work, improving and refining practices and policies, writes CEO at Health Assured, David Price.

Employers have a duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of their staff, and this includes taking reasonable care to prevent issues surrounding mental health in the workplace from occurring.

Ignoring stress-related symptoms and other indications of mental illhealth should not be an option for employers. A massive culture change in how this issue should be addressed over the past few years has helped introduce a positive and proactive approach from employers.

The law also prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the grounds of a protected characteristic. Some mental illnesses will constitute a disability under the Equality Act 2010, where these have a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to do normal day to day activities.

This means employers cannot treat employees less favourably because of poor mental health in the workplace. There is also a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to avoid disadvantages faced by disabled employees. This is a positive duty to take reasonable steps to remove or reduce the obstacles the employee is facing at work because of a mental illness.

Employers need to ensure they are training and supporting line managers, and all managers, in the workplace to present the correct working culture and help identify issues as these arise.

Managers should receive appropriate training in communication, setting achievable targets, managing performance and providing feedback. Identifying poor mental health in the workplace as early as possible will help when looking to provide support.

Disclosing mental health issues is not the easiest thing for employees, so it’s essential that open and honest communication is supported by members of management.  

It’s important employers are recognising that working demands and pressures have a significant impact on the mental wellbeing of their staff. A recent report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that the increase in technology and remote ways of working meant that staff felt they could not switch off after working hours.

Setting out company expectations about working hours, working from home and switching off, will allow employees to have a greater work – life balance and feel that they can put down their workplace technology outside of working hours.

Providing workplace support and highlighting courses or advice staff can seek is an important way of emphasising the positive workplace culture around mental health.

It also recognises that mental health issues that affect employees are not solely created by work issues but can be personal issues that lead to a lower performance at work.

Providing employee benefits, such as an employee assistance programme, a confidential counselling service that provides round the clock support on a wide range of issues, is a small financial cost that helps employees deal with personal and workplace problems that can affect their mental wellbeing.

David Price is CEO at Health Assured.

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