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Legal-ease: Reducing the cost of mental health absence

How employers can reduce the cost of mental health absence and help their employees

The UK’s chief medical examiner reported in 2013 that mental illness is the largest single cause of disability in the UK. The Office for National Statistics revealed that in 2015 17 million working days were lost because of absence related to mental health.

Absence due to the mental health of staff is damaging businesses but there are steps employers can take to reduce the effect of mental health issues on their employees.

1. Train managers to spot problems

  • Train managers how to manage staff in a positive way.
  • Raise awareness of mental health issues and the impact of insensitive comments on an employee.
  • Managers should have regular one to ones with staff to discuss how they are feeling.
  • Managers can refer any issues to HR to intervene and offer support.

2. Carefully plan organisational change

  • Think about the words used.
  • Are there any ways to sensitively deal with the issue?
  • What support can be offered to those affected? E.g. time off, counselling etc.

3. Tackle stigma

  • Organisations exist to help companies raise mental health awareness within their business.
  • Consider posters around the workplace, the appointment of a ‘wellbeing champion’ in the senior team, or talks from external specialists.
  • The Health and Safety Executive has produced free guidance for any employer looking to improve the mental health of its employees.

4. Employee Assistance Programme policies

  • EAP policies often offer a certain number of free counselling sessions and other benefits, and support on debt and other private issues.
  • Promote and publicise the benefits of your policy to staff.

5. Make reasonable adjustments

  • Under the Equality Act 2010 mental health conditions could be classed as disabilities. So the obligation to make reasonable adjustments could arise.
  • If you are not sure if an employee is disabled or what adjustments are necessary seek a medical report for advice.
  • Meet with the employee to discuss the report.
  • Carefully consider, research and implement the adjustments where possible.

Quite often these steps can prevent absence happening in the first place and can help provide employers with a stable and present workforce.

Sarah Dillon is a director at ESP Law, provider of HR magazine’s HR Legal Service