Managing mental health issues in the workplace

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ACAS reports that mental health problems cost the UK economy £30 billion a year through lost productivity, recruitment and absence. Some of these costs can be mitigated through careful management of employees' mental health needs.

Mental health conditions can also amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010 if they last, or are likely to last, for 12 months or more and have a substantial adverse effect on the individual’s ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Employers must refrain from discriminatory practices and, in certain circumstances, should make reasonable adjustments to an employee’s working conditions when they are aware of that individual's disability.

Tackling mental health issues early and effectively helps to promote constructive working relationships, minimise performance issues and reduce the risk of grievances and tribunal claims. 

However, mental health conditions can be hard to spot and managers often feel less confident in raising and discussing this type of health issue. The following practical tips will help: 

Prevention

  • Promote an open and inclusive working environment. Train managers to take the initiative and approach matters sensitively, in consultation with HR. Ensuring you have robust equality, anti-bullying and harassment policies and practices in place will also help employees feel confident in asking for help    
  • Encourage a healthy work-life balance 
  • Consider introducing stress management and equal opportunities guides to support managers in tackling mental health issues
  • Think about offering support through a confidential employee helpline
  • Educate staff about mental health so they understand the issues and feel comfortable talking about them 

Identification

  • Know the potential indicators of mental health problems, such as declines in productivity or communication, uncharacteristic errors or symptoms of stress 
  • Be aware of stressor factors that may affect employees’ abilities to manage mental health conditions, such as heavy workloads or increases in responsibility, and keep these under review to spot any warning signs
  • Regularly review absence records for patterns that may indicate an underlying mental health condition, and obtain medical advice if any are detected
  • Ensure performance discussions include an opportunity for employees to raise any factors – including health – 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.  

Action

  • Arrange meetings at the earliest opportunity to discuss concerns and any support measures available 
  • Consider whether any adjustments will assist employees in managing mental health conditions, such as flexible working arrangements, additional training or extended deadlines. 
  • Don’t forget to support colleagues who may be asked to pick up additional duties
  • Obtain medical advice to allow you to judge the likelihood of future absences before making any decisions
  • Do not rely solely on medical advice. Employers should also make their own assessments and liaise with the employee about their view on current and expected future capabilities (including attendance rates). 
  • Maintain clear records of all discussions and processes, but be mindful that information relating to an employee’s health constitutes sensitive personal data and treat matters with appropriate confidentiality

Alex Newborough is an employment law specialist at Shoosmiths. Simon Fennell is an experienced employment specialist at Shoosmiths

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