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Claire Merritt | 8th January 2019

New obligations for employers – mental health at work


Claire Merritt | 8th January 2019

New obligations for employers – mental health at work

The mental health charity Mind has recently published the alarming finding that poor mental health affects half of all employees. Fear of failure, mounting pressure and job insecurity have been found as some of the biggest contributors to stress in the workplace. This is something that some may argue will continue to rise in the age where the gig economy, based on flexible and non-guaranteed working arrangements, is booming.

Mind has, alongside other organisations, created an online resource for employers and employees with information, advice, resources and training that workplaces can use to improve wellbeing. This initiative was launched with the support of the Duke of Cambridge.

A large number of business leaders and unions have recently called for mental health first aid provision to be compulsory in workplaces, with mental health first aiders being available to employees alongside staff trained to respond to basic injuries. Enterprises such as WH Smith, Royal Mail and Channel 4 were some of the signatories to an open letter submitted to Theresa May on this issue, signalling a further push for the need to recognise and reduce mental health issues in the workplace.

The letter calls for the Government to change health and safety rules in order to equip first aiders with the ability to spot early signs of mental health problems. It states that it is the employers’ duty of care to equalise mental health with physical health.

Many organisations have already implemented mental health first aid initiatives. Thames Water now has 350 employees who wear green lanyards in order to identify themselves as mental health first aiders. The company states that they have seen a 75% reduction in work related mental health issues since introducing this scheme.

Benefits to business

Research conducted into mental wellbeing has found that employees who feel happy are more productive, more creative, more engaged, better at sales and problem solving. On top of that, they work better in teams and are happy to help others, in turn creating a positive working atmosphere and often leading to higher job satisfaction.

Taking steps to create a positive working atmosphere and spot the first signs of mental health decline, can also help business from a commercial point of view. If the correct approach and initiatives are taken, the amount of sick days taken for mental health related problems may reduce. It is estimated that mental health in the workplace costs the UK economy £35billion a year with 15.4million working days lost due to stress, depression or anxiety.

It is also estimated that around 300,000 people lose their job each year due to a mental health problem. With the potential of employees claiming disability discrimination in connection with mental health conditions, it is vital for business to seek legal advice on any issues which may arise to reduce the risk of claims.

What can employers do?

  1. Create a positive atmosphere which encourages conversation
    Encouraging conversation between employees can have numerous positives effects. It allows employees to break down barriers and show support, meaning that everyone feels like they can ask for help when it is needed. Conversation also encourages building positive working relationships and creates a more supportive and positive atmosphere.
  2. Model the right behaviour
    Managers are often role models for more junior employees, which is why training management and making sure their values align with yours is so important.
  3. Build an attitude of gratitude
    Recognition and praise have been found to have a more positive effect on wellbeing than financial rewards. A simple act of gratitude can create more optimism and nurture motivation.
  4. Mental health audits
    Due to the stigma which still surrounds mental health issues, it has been suggested that employers conduct anonymous audits. This process would allow employees to speak openly about the internal practices and management and in turn it would allow employers to review the same. This process should not only make employees feel supported and able to communicate concerns but also allow employers to monitor managerial approaches and office atmosphere.

If you are interested in learning more about the interaction of mental health and the workplace, we are providing a training session ‘Managing Mental Ill-health in the Workplace’ on 20 March 2019 at our offices. Alternatively, we can provide training sessions at your organisation at your convenience. Please contact Claire Merritt, Partner for more details.

To view all the employment law training we offer please click here.

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