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Putting mental health on the workplace agenda

15/06/2017

Estimates by ACAS suggest that businesses can lose around £30bn each year through lost production, recruitment and absence arising through mental health issues.

It’s estimated that employers should be able to cut these costs by around a third, if they implement better management practices to support ‘mental-healthiness’ in the workplace.  

Strategies to focus on improved mental health can help businesses improve individual support to staff as well as improving their own bottom line. It can also avoid potential complaints or even litigation from employees.

Recent research by the Mental Health Foundation found that nearly two-thirds of people in Britain have experienced a mental health problem. The figure is higher for women than for men, and for young adults between 18 and 34 and people living alone.  

A recent workplace study found that those suffering from mental health issues were 37 per cent more likely to get into conflict with colleagues, 80 per cent found it difficult to concentrate and 50 per cent are potentially less patient with customers and clients.

Employment Partner Julia Fitzsimmons said: “It’s the cloak of invisibility that may mean things are ignored or potentially mishandled.

“There’s often an unwillingness to raise the issue, as people find it hard to talk about mental health. They may feel there is a stigma, or that it could have an impact on their longer-term prospects, if they feel they may be judged as not strong enough. Employers can help by putting support structures in place, with an open attitude to communication, which can drive better understanding as well as helping to address their legal obligations.”  

In some cases, mental health issues may be classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, which makes it unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled person less favourably because of their disability, without a justifiable reason.

Mental health issues may be considered a disability if they have ‘a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.’
Julia added: “Where someone suffers from severe depression, for example, that’s not enough on its own to meet the definition of ‘disability’ under the Equality Act; the situation would need to meet the requirement of having a substantial, long-term impact on the individual’s abilities. 

“But, whatever the extent of an individual’s mental health issues, all are equally in need of responsible support and protection from unfair or discriminatory treatment. There is a responsibility on the employer to tackle mental, as well as physical health in the workplace and hard-wire it into all aspects of their recruitment and employment policies.” 

Tips for employers include: 

  • Have a policy that specifically addresses mental health issues and encourages everyone to feel able to talk about the subject, with a clear route to raise any problems. This should be well published across the business, as well as being included in the staff handbook. 

  • Encourage everyone to understand the issue, through disability and equality training, and equip line managers to identify potential mental health issues. 

  • Establish support networks for employees to access, whether HR-led internal support, or through external employee assistance programmes providing access to counselling, medical insurance or occupational health. 

Julia added:

“Whether recruiting, or with an existing employee, it’s important to focus on the ability of an individual to do the job and, if they have any physical or mental impairments, to consider whether reasonable adjustments could be made to enable them to fulfill the role.” 

Useful links:  Acas | NHS Mindful Employer initiative | Mental Health Foundation 

For further advice, please contact Julia Fitzsimmons on 01952 208420 or j.fitzsimmons@fbcmb.co.uk. Alternatively, find out more about our Employment & HR Services

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