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Mental Health Week 2017: tackling the stigma of mental health in the workplace

13 October 2017 #Other

The 10th October marked World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme was ‘mental health in the workplace’.

An estimated 1 in 4 adults will struggle with a mental health issue at some point in their lives, however according to studies, 85% of people believed there to be a stigma attached to mental health issues and stress in the workplace, with 58% admitting they wouldn’t feel comfortable telling their manager of their struggles.

Mental illness can not only be isolating and terrifying for the individual suffering, the business case for workplace interventions is also compelling. £8.4 billion a year is spent on sickness absence related to mental illness and up to 70 million working days every year are lost as a result, including one in seven directly caused by a person’s work or working conditions. HR departments and employers should be aware of best practice in identifying and supporting individuals with these illnesses, as well as becoming a vital conduit for support and information as we try to change attitudes and engage workforces to the importance of this issue.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises that the first step for employers is to identify risks posed to employees.  There are 6 areas of work that can have a negative impact on employees’ mental health if not properly managed. These areas include:

  • Demands- including an individual’s workload, work patterns and environment;
  • Control- how much independence an individual has at work;
  • Support- what encouragement, sponsorship and resources are provided by management and colleagues;
  • Role- whether individuals understand their role within the organisation ensures they do not have conflicting roles;
  • Change- how organisation change is managed and communicated in the organisation; and
  • Relationships- promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.

When stress is unmanaged and an individual perceives a lack of control, or when demand exceeds resource, it may tip them over the edge.  Stress may be deemed a disability under the Equality Act 2010 and once an employer is on notice of an employee’s stress, the legal duty to make reasonable adjustments may kick in.  For example, ensuring a project is suitably staffed so that an individual is not working around the clock over a lengthy period and thus able to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Coinciding with these growing concerns, ACAS has published a new guidance booklet on Promoting Positive Mental Health in the Workplace as well as two smaller online guides (i) Dealing with Stress in the Workplace; and (ii) Managing Staff Experiencing Mental Ill Health.  This guidance provides tips for employers on how to identify, mitigate and adapt to mental health issues within workplaces. Key tips and measures that can be implemented to help include:

  • Educating workforces - raising awareness of mental health through specialist training and encouraging a culture of openness to facilitate discussion to help challenge a harmful perceived stigma;
  • Ensuring appraisals or performance reviews provide an opportunity for employees to raise any factors including physical health, stress, anxiety or depression, which may be affecting performance. Managers should discuss any disclosures about mental health with HR before formalising support plans or taking further steps in order to help promote consistency of treatment;
  • Implementing clear policies that provide staff with information about how to manage mental health within the workplace. Such policies may differ for each workplace and depending on context. A smaller business, in the absence of a formal policy, may still develop a clear approach and positive culture with regards to mental health and how it is communicated with staff;
  • Fostering an open and honest culture whereby employees feel comfortable to talk to their manager or colleagues about their issues. The implementation of Mental Health First Aiders in workplaces can be seen as a good example where employees have access to an individual who is specially trained in dealing with such issues; and
  • Empowering managers to make adjustments, to help employees deal with their workload and focus on getting better can have a great effect on making them feel supported and relieving pressure. Setting more appropriate work hours and targets is a good place to start.

Additionally, the mental health charity MIND has created a compelling report  ‘Getting ahead: why mental health at work matters’. The report is a collection of perspectives from senior business leaders across London's private, public and voluntary sectors, detailing why they view mental health as a business priority and a strategic leadership issue. The collection also includes practical examples on what organisations are doing to support the mental health of their staff, with contributions from Facebook UK, HSBC, Comic Relief and KPMG.

Culture change is vital.  Educating the workforce through training and positive actions is fundamental to such change.  The mental well-being of the workforce ultimately affects the well-being of the business and its bottom-line.  For more information regarding the issues raised in this article please contact our employment team.

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Helen Beech

Helen Beech
Partner

E: hbeech@clarkslegal.com
T: 0118 9604 639
M: 07747 620 379