Mental Health in the Workplace: The truth & how to address it from an employment perspective

25 July 2016

Mental health issues within the workplace are becoming increasingly common. In her latest blog post, Katie Davies, partner & employment law expert, looks at how employers can manage and support staff experiencing mental health issues.

Mental health issues within the workplace are becoming increasingly common. If employees are not supported effectively this can result in time off work and can exacerbate a condition which results in long term incapability. Absences cost businesses time and money, therefore it’s important to support individuals who experience ill-health back to work.

The Facts

  • In 2014/15 stress accounted for 43% of all working days lost due to ill health (Health and Safety Executive).
  • A recent survey from MIND found that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year and that by 2020 mental ill health will be the second most common cause of ill health worldwide.
  • A recent survey carried out by Westfield Health discovered that 21% of workers admitted that they considered that the real reason for their absence - mental health issues - would have a negative effect on their career.

Encouraging an open environment

In order to be able to deal with mental health issues effectively, employers need to encourage openness so that employees feel able to share their issues. This will help avoid further problems and ultimately reduce sickness levels and associated costs.

Offering support and assistance at an early stage can remove barriers and can not only stop individuals having time off work but also encourage them back to work. Recent evidence shows that if employees return to work after only a few weeks absence then the issue is less likely to recur. However, if employees remain off work for 6 months or more then they are unlikely to be able to return to work at all.

Adjustments – how can you help?

Making minor adjustments to your businesses can prevent absences and keep people at work and is far cheaper than the costs involved in dismissal and recruitment. Employers should be open to the idea of making changes at an early stage, as not only will this help defend any discrimination claims, should the end result be dismissal, but it may in fact remove any obstacles the employee is facing. In mental health situations, minor changes to working environments can make a major difference.

A recent survey from the Human Rights Commission confirmed that the average cost of adjustments is as little as £75. Allowing an employee to have slightly longer breaks, moving their work station to a quieter area of the building, or offering them a mentor are all things which may make a difference. Remember, every case is different and you shouldn’t assume that something won’t work. Ultimately it is the individual who is the expert in this matter and therefore you should always consult with them!

HR Forum – expert advice

Teresa Thomas and I recently gave a practical talk on how to deal with mental health issues in the workplace during our latest HR Forum, which is held in conjunction with Hays Human Resources. Whilst we focused on employment issues including how to support individuals back to work along with, the importance of medical advice and how to deal with disabilities, we were accompanied by Alexis Powell-Howard from Fortis Therapy and Training who explained more about the causes of mental health and how to address them.

Naturally, if you would like any further information on how to deal with mental health issues from an employment prospective, please do contact me or a member of the employment law team. And, if you’d like to receive invitations to future HR forum events, please click here to register.

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