Why employers must talk about mental health

Thu, May 25th, 2017

Employment Law expert discusses mental health awareness in the workplace

Employment Law Solicitor, Lindsey Knowles,  discusses mental health in the workplace.

 It’s a topic that has touched the lives of public figures from Prince Harry to Lady Gaga. And thanks to their campaigning efforts lately, mental health has never been higher on the news agenda.

With good reason. It’s estimated one in four of us will suffer with a mental health issue at some point in our lives, and often it’s the people around us who realise there is a problem long before we do.

Of course, the people around us can often include our line managers and employers, who can find it difficult to know how to identify and deal with mental health issues in their team without causing offence or even breaking the law.

However, with mental health problems costing employers in the UK £30 billion a year through lost production, recruitment and absence, it’s a topic that must be discussed.

Employers have a legal duty to ensure that employees are provided with a safe working environment. This means taking reasonable care to prevent personal injury, including mental or physical harm that may in some cases arise due to workplace stress.

If an employer is worried about an employee’s mental health, they should prioritise their obligation to protect the health and safety of that employee. That means seeking advice from a relevant professional and - in the confines of a private, confidential setting where the employee feels equal and at ease – raising the topic with them in a non-judgemental way.

Broaching the subject can feel awkward, which is why mental health charity Mind suggests holding regular catch-up meetings with employees where any concerns can be discussed.

Once any mental health issue has been disclosed, line managers and employers should look at how work may be affecting the employee’s mental health; have they been equipped with the tools they need to do their jobs properly? Have they been given a greater workload than they can cope with? Has their condition been triggered by workplace stresses? What can be done to ease their load?

Mental health movement Time to Change advise making Wellness Action Plans available to employees. These can be found on their website, and prompt the introduction of practical steps to support employees who need a helping hand.

In addition to statutory health and safety duties, employers also have a duty, under the Equality Act 2010, not to discriminate because of a person’s disability (defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities) and to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

Mental health may not be the easiest of topics to discuss, but it’s a vital one and, while there is no ‘easy fix’ for the problem, it is clear this issue has to be addressed. For employers, taking the time to find out how their staff really are, may be the best move they ever make.

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