Supporting mental health in the workplace
If one of your employees has a mental health issue, it’s important that you as their employer takes it seriously. We would recommend that you talk to the employee to find out what support they might need at work.
Legally speaking, employers also have a 'duty of care', this means they must do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing. This includes making sure that the working environment is safe, protecting staff from discrimination and carrying out risk assessments.
Prior to the pandemic, mental health was kept below the radar for many employers. However, a great deal has changed in the last 2 years and mental health in the workplace is now at the forefront for most companies.
It is acknowledged that there is a direct correlation between mental health and work, with employers now actively encouraging their employees to discuss the impact that work related stress can have on them mentally.
Of course, there are many types of mental health issue. An issue can happen suddenly, because of a specific event in someone’s life, or it can build up gradually over time. Common mental health issues include stress (not classed as a medical condition but it can still have a serious impact on wellbeing), depression and anxiety. Less common ones include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Discriminating against someone with a disability
A mental health issue can be considered a disability under the law (Equality Act 2010) if all of the following apply:
That it has a 'substantial adverse effect' on the life of an employee, for example, they regularly cannot focus on a task, or it takes them longer to do.
That it lasts at least 12 months or is expected to.
That it affects their ability to do their normal day-to-day activities, for example, interacting with people, following instructions or keeping to set working times.
A mental health issue can be considered a disability even if there are not symptoms all the time, or the symptoms are better at some times than at others. If an employee has a disability, employers must not discriminate against them because of their disability and must make reasonable adjustments in relation to their working conditions if appropriate.
It's a good idea to work with the employee to make the right adjustments for them, even if the issue is not a disability. Often, simple changes to the person's working arrangements or responsibilities could be enough. For example, allowing them more rest breaks and working with them each day to help prioritise their workload.
It’s good to talk
If staff feel they can talk openly about mental health, problems are less likely to build up. This could lead to less time off for a mental health issue and improved morale in the workplace.
It’s helpful if employers create an environment where staff feel able to talk openly about mental health. For example, treating mental and physical health as equally important, making sure that employees have regular one-to-ones with their managers, to talk about any problems they’re having. Encouraging positive mental health, for example arranging mental health awareness training, workshops or appointing mental health ‘champions’ who staff can talk to.
It is also worth mentioning that there a number of providers of telephone support services that employers can make available to their employees, if they are more comfortable speaking to someone outside the workplace.