One of your biggest responsibilities as an employer within a business is to take care of the welfare of your staff. This means taking care of employees with pre-existing health issues and disabilities as well as doing what you can to prevent new ones. If you don’t, you’ll soon face the consequences: your staff will be unhappy, unmotivated and disloyal to the business, resulting in nothing less than low staff retention rates and suffering productivity levels.

Historically, the term ‘disability’ has often been associated solely with physical impairments and conditions, however over the recent years the importance of mental health has received a huge amount of recognition, and a lot of focus has been on the discrimination around mental illness – particularly in the workplace.

The responsibility lies with the employer to ensure their employees mental health is being looked after, but legally, what are you liable for, and what steps can you take to look after your employees’ mental health?

Be in the know with mental health issues

Today, mental health issues stand as a staggering 23% of ill health in the UK and are the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK, so being aware of the issues so you’re prepared to step in and support your employees is paramount.

The subject of mental health in the workplace is attracting more and more political attention, so much so that in January 2017 the Prime Minister commissioned a review by the CEO of Mind and the Chair of the NHS Mental Health Taskforce into support for mental health within organisations.

It was made clear in this report that support levels were inadequate and change needed to happen as a matter of urgency. And you only need to look at these harrowing statistics from a recent report by Business In The Community to see why:

  • 3 out of 5 employees have experienced mental health issues in the past year, with work as a related factor
  • 1 in 3 employees have been formally diagnosed with a mental health issue
  • 6% of employees have been living with a formally diagnosed mental health condition for over 10 years
  • Only 13% felt able to disclose a mental health issue to their line manager

So what are the laws around mental health in the workplace and what responsibilities do you have as an employer?

Mental health and the Equality Act 2010

One of the biggest issues associated with mental health in the workplace is discrimination. And it is because of this that it was included in the Equality Act of 2010.

This law means that employees are protected from being treated unfairly or discriminated against when they are either at work or applying for jobs. Anyone whose mental illness compromises their ability long-term to carry out normal day-to-day activities is covered by the act.
You can find out more about the Equality Act 2010 on the government website.

Reasonable adjustments at work

The Equality Act also means that employers need to make sure they provide reasonable adjustments to those suffering with mental illness within their organisation. Failing to do so counts as discrimination, so it’s important you have plan in place if one or more of your employees suffers from mental illness at any point in the future.

A reasonable adjustment is where an employer makes changes to an employee’s role to make things easier for them.

In terms of mental health, this can include:

  • Flexible working or shift adjustments
  • Change of workspace
  • Working from home
  • Adjustment to absence rules or limits
  • Providing paid time off for therapy or counselling
  • Amendments to workload

The Equality and Human Rights Commission provide guidance on providing reasonable adjustments in the workplace – click here to read more.

Creating a mental health-friendly culture

If you’ve established a supportive environment that supports mental health, it can be the difference between someone feeling comfortable to speak out early on about their struggles and tackling them, or keeping things bottled up.

Here are some steps you can take towards building a company culture that supports mental health.

Talk about mental health

One of the biggest problems within organisations when it comes to mental health is that it’s simply not talked about. If mental health is a common topic of conversation within a business, employees will feel far more comfortable speaking out should they be struggling with their mental health.

To boost conversation around the subject of mental health, you can try organising workshops or presentations around the subject. Over time, confidence will increase among employees and it will be significantly easier to talk about mental health.

Equality between physical and mental health 

In order to create a culture that looks after your employees’ mental health, it’s crucial that you give mental health the same level of focus that you would physical health.

Promoting this among the business will reassure employees that mental health is just as important and should be spoken about and will minimise discrimination too.  

The Time To Change employer pledge can 

Establish a mental health policy

Defining a clear mental health policy will underpin your values and establish a clear process that employees should follow should they need help with their mental health. This includes putting designated channels of communication in place as well as a step-by-step process for supporting an employee. 

Here is a really useful guide on how to write a mental health policy.

Check in with your employees regularly

Make sure you arrange regular one-to-ones with your employees as this is a great opportunity for you to check in with them, and equally for them to have a conversation with you should they be struggling with their mental health. It also shows your employees that you genuinely care for their welfare. 

Online HR software is a really helpful tool when it comes to arranging and managing your employee one-to-ones.

Build confidence

Creating confidence in the workplace is certainly not an overnight process, it takes a lot of time and perseverance, but by following the above tips and leading by example along the way, eventually your employees’ trust in you as an employer will increase. Prove that you are invested in your employees’ mental wellbeing and not only will they will be invested in not only you as an employer, but in your business too.

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