Mental health matters in the workplace: Rome was not built in a day

This week is Mental Health Awareness week and mental health is now increasingly high on the political agenda. According to mental health charity Mind, right now, 1 in 6 workers are dealing with a mental health problem.

Many individuals find that going to work has a positive effect on their mental health. It can create a structured and consistent routine, creates opportunities to gain qualifications and new skills as well as facilitating contact with others, friendships and socialising. However, an individual’s work can be affected due to their mental health and unfortunately, work can sometimes make an individual’s mental health worse.

With few employees feeling that they can speak openly with their Manager and shying away from work to avoid difficult conversations about their mental health, what can you do as an Employer to help?

• Create an open culture that supports employees. Introduce a mental health policy in the staff handbook and have a clear mental health strategy. Provide Managers and if possible all staff with training. Treat mental health in the same way you would physical health – send a ‘get well soon’ card.
• Start a conversation. Be alert to changes in behaviour and work/output. If you think someone is experiencing a mental health problem, take the lead and approach them as they may feel unable, or don’t know how to start that conversation. Hold the conversation somewhere private and quiet. Listen and don’t make assumptions. Assure them of confidentiality and encourage them to seek advice.
• Stay in touch. Actively manage any mental health related absence. Be proactive, supportive and maintain contact. Take your lead from their preferred method of contact, whether that be WhatsApp, email, telephone or face-to-face. Regular ‘it’s against the Sickness Absence policy rules’ contact is better than no contact. Encourage work colleagues to stay in touch.
• Manage their return to work. Don’t rush them back to work. Keep them in the loop about workplace developments and visit them at home before they return to make it easier. Do not assume a fit note means they can return to the same environment and pick up where they left off. Conduct a return to work interview. Their first day back is the most important and should be as smooth as possible.
• Develop an action plan. Actively address the workplace issues they are struggling with. Focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t do. Understand their symptoms/warning signs and the triggers. Agree what support they require. Keep it under regular review.
• Support don’t discriminate. A mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on an individual’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities may amount to a disability under the Equality Act. Telling an employee to ‘Pull yourself together’ is not acceptable. Avoid stigma.
• Consider reasonable adjustments. Reasonable adjustments may be necessary to remove any disadvantage or alleviate stress. Adjustments may include flexible hours, home working, a quieter environment, change to rest breaks, granting leave requests at short notice and cooperating with mental health related appointments, reallocating responsibilities, providing training and support, allowing additional time to complete tasks.

Remember: Rome was not built in a day. Important work takes time and change takes time. The relationship between Managers and their staff are vital in shaping how employees will respond when experiencing mental health issues. Sometimes all that is required is a change of attitude.

For specialist advice on workplace discrimination or on any other employment law matter, please contact our Coventry based Employment Law Solicitors:

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Askews Legal LLP, 5 The Quadrant, Coventry, CV1 2EL Tel: 024 7623 1000