Mental Health Awareness Week

It is Mental Health Awareness Week!

This year, Mental Health Awareness Week is from 13 – 19 May. The annual initiative led by the Mental Health Foundation encourages us to talk about mental health and reminds us of the importance of mental well-being in our lives.

This year’s theme, centred around movement, underscores the profound impact physical activity has on our mental health. Moving can increase your energy, reduce stress and anxiety and boost your self-esteem. Whether it’s a stroll in nature or a gym session, movement offers countless benefits for our mind and body, emphasising the crucial link between physical and mental health.

The impact of mental health on employers

Given that employees spend such a large portion of their time at work, the workplace is one of the key environments that can affect our mental well-being and overall health. Employers are increasingly recognising their role in safeguarding the well-being of their workforce. Neglecting mental health can lead to burnout among employees, seriously affecting their ability to meaningfully contribute to both personal and professional capacities.

Employers need to be aware of mental health conditions that are, or may be, affecting their employees. Employees can develop conditions such as depression, anxiety, stress and chronic fatigue. These conditions often significantly impact all aspects of the individual’s life, including their ability to carry out their regular duties at work. This, in turn, can cause issues for employers in terms of productivity levels, sickness absences and staff turnover.

Mental health is the most common cause of sick leave in the UK. Employers may be faced with long-term sickness absences or staff repeatedly taking short-term absences as a result of mental health conditions, including depression or work-induced stress.

It’s important for employers to appreciate the significance of having appropriate workplace well-being processes in place. Failure to implement effective processes contributes to higher staff turnover, leading to wasted recruitment fees and training costs, amongst other issues.

The law on mental health

Employers have a duty of care to their employees. This means they must do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety, and well-being. This includes, but is not limited to, ensuring the working environment is safe, carrying out risk assessments, and protecting staff from discrimination. Further to this, there is an implied term of mutual trust and confidence in all employment contracts. A breach of this term could result in employees claiming constructive unfair dismissal and could lead to costly tribunal claims.

Severe mental health conditions can be considered a disability under the Equality Act. If an employee has a disability, employers must not discriminate against the individual because of their disability, and they must consider making reasonable adjustments to support the employee going forward. It is a good idea to work with the employee to make the right reasonable adjustment for them. Often, simple changes can be effective, such as allowing more rest breaks or working with employees to help prioritise their workload.

What can employers do?

Employers need to do more than just implement policies on mental health at work. A clear workplace policy on mental health is a good starting point as it outlines the firm’s vision, values, and principles. Beyond this, creating a culture of openness where employees feel comfortable talking about their mental health is essential and should be encouraged.

Line managers should be provided with the tools and training to ensure that they can recognise the signs and address them before these issues escalate. Key indicators of mental health issues that line managers should look out for include:

  • Changes in behaviour, mood and interaction with colleagues.
  • Changes in standard of work or focus on tasks.
  • Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn.

Many employers offer benefits to employees, such as confidential helplines, access to counselling, mental health first aiders, and well-being workshops. Whilst these benefits may help deal with stress and/or help develop resilience or coping mechanisms, they may not go to the root cause of the stress, so employers should make mental well-being at work a constant focus point. Employers should encourage a culture where employees actively engage with each other and their line managers about all aspects of life and work, including their mental well-being. This approach will provide employees the opportunity to speak up about any concerns they have or issues they are facing, allowing potential problems to be dealt with at an early stage.

If employers can take steps to alleviate stress and provide support networks for their employees, then the well-being of their staff should improve. Other benefits include improved productivity and performance, reduced staff absences, enhanced reputation as an employer and improved working relationships.

Here is how you can celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week within your business:

  • Encourage employees to move their bodies: Whether it’s morning yoga or a walk during lunch, find ways to incorporate movement into your daily routine.
  • Encourage employees to explore nature: Immersing yourself in nature can uplift your mood, clear your head and reduce stress.
  • Celebrate employees’ progress: remember to celebrate progress, no matter how small. Every step you take towards prioritising your mental health is a step in the right direction.
  • Create opportunities for social activities: Social activities offer a chance to build stronger relationships with colleagues outside the workplace.

How we can help

For further information regarding mental health in the workplace, please contact us to speak to a member of our Employment Team.

Darren Smith
Partner, Employment
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This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter.

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