What can employers do to help staff struggling with their mental health?

04/02/2020

Although the taboo of talking about mental health has started to shift, employers are still not spotting when their staff might need support.   

Fewer than half of employees think their boss would notice if they were struggling with mental health, according to the most recent Workplace Wellbeing Index. A statistic which FBC Manby Bowdler’s Julia Fitzsimmons says should prompt companies to examine whether their policy and culture really does support employees and match up to best practice.   

Julia Fitzsimmons, Partner in the firm’s Employment Team, says employers have a legal duty to ensure the mental wellbeing of their staff. And if that wasn’t enough, having a happier workforce has been shown to improve the bottom line of a business.  

“Research among workers by MIND, the mental health charity, found that a continuing culture of fear and silence around mental health was adding up to a big cost to employers, with more than 20 per cent reporting they had called in sick to avoid workplace stress, and 30 per cent saying they did not feel they would be able to speak openly with their line manager about the issue.   

“We would urge employers to listen to what charities like MIND are saying, and develop strategies focused on mental health as part of employee wellbeing.   

“We can support employers who have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work. Companies should be undertaking a risk assessment and acting on it. And where an employee is suffering from a mental health condition which has a long-term effect on day-to-day activity, this may be classed as a disability, requiring the employer to take positive action under the Equality Act 2010.    

“The Equality Act makes it unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled person less favourably because of their disability, without a justifiable reason.   

“Best practice is for employers to have clearly stated policies that are reflected in the company’s culture, so that a manager who notices a change in personality, evidence of low mood or periods of increased absence, will feel equipped to enquire if any workplace support is needed. It needs to happen in a supportive environment where the employee feels comfortable in opening up and asking for help, if needed.   

“It is perhaps telling that the Index found that two in three managers felt confident promoting wellbeing in the workplace, and 41% felt their employer contributed to their skills in supporting an employee with poor mental health, only around half of all employees themselves felt it would be spotted if they were struggling.”  

For further advice on employment law or HR issues, please contact Julia on the details below.

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