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Poor mental health costs employers £42bn a year

MH
BY Miranda Hughes
Employment law

With Mental Health Awareness week having just passed, now seems like an apt time for employers to consider how mental health issues might be affecting their workforce. If the 2017 Thriving at Work report is anything to go by, this is something that should be on the radar of all organisations. According to this report, poor mental health costs employers £42bn per year.  Indeed, the report found that that the number of people forced to stop work as a result of mental health problems is 50% higher than for those with physical health conditions.

This report has also made it clear that challenging mental health as a ‘taboo’ subject will benefit both employees who suffer from mental health conditions and their employers too. Mental health has been linked to a loss of productivity in the workplace and has also been found to negatively impact upon relationships with colleagues and customers. Where people feel they are unable to speak up about their mental health issues, this is likely to lead to increased absences and, perhaps ultimately, leaving the organisation.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. The 2017 report also found that 15% of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition. What this means is that, with the right support, those with mental health conditions can not only continue to be at work but can thrive also.  

So what then can employers do to support their employees? First and foremost, employers should be aware that a number of people with ongoing mental health problems will meet the Equality Act’s definition of disability and will therefore be protected from discrimination at work. As a result, their employers will need to consider whether there are any reasonable adjustments which can be made, to their role or workplace, to accommodate their disability. Employers should also seek to comply with the Acas guidance, which is often considered by tribunals in employment claims.

The Thriving at Work report itself also makes a number of recommendations, including that employers:

  • Develop and implement a mental health at work plan to change attitude
  • Train managers on mental health issues and encourage them to hold regular conversations about health and well-being with their staff
  • Build awareness by making information and support accessible
  • Tackle work-related causes of mental ill-health and ensure employees have a healthy work-life balance
  • Involve staff in developing policies and strategy
  • Monitor employee mental health to identify causes of mental health issues and any particular problem areas
  • Foster a culture of authenticity and openness so that employee can feel reassured to seek help without any stigma being attached to them
  • Review the company’s absence policies and keeping-in-touch arrangements
  • Appoint a ‘mental health champion’ to actively promote good mental health

As the issue of mental health in the workplace becomes more visible, employers’ internal policies are procedures are coming under greater scrutiny. Mental health policies are becoming a key consideration for jobseekers and some organisations are publishing this information on their websites as part of their corporate culture. Around 11% of companies also include a section on employee mental health in their annual reports.

Employers are increasingly recognising the issue of mental health in the workplace, but it can be difficult to know how to get started in implementing change. In recognition of the challenges employers face, Law At Work is holding SPOTLIGHT on Mental Health in the Workplace training events. This training will increase attendees’ understanding of mental health and how this affects their workforce and will equip them with tools to help them manage and support employees with mental health conditions. Including help with disciplinary procedures, performance management and reducing absences.

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