Mental Health in the Workplace

The World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day on 10 October every year. World Mental Health Day gives us all the opportunity to talk about mental health and how to look after it.

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 wellbeing and overall health. Employers are becoming increasingly aware of mental health issues and the need to make wellbeing at work a priority. Poor mental health can lead to burn-out amongst employees, seriously affecting their ability to meaningfully contribute in 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 have a significant impact on all aspects of the individual’s life, including their ability to carry out their normal duties at work. This in turn can cause issues for employers in terms of productivity levels, sickness absences and staff turnover.

Mental health problems are 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 and work-induced stress.

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

Employers have a duty of care to their employees, which includes making sure that 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.

Serious 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 or their disability and they must consider making reasonable adjustments to support the employee going forward.

What can employers do?

Employers need to be doing more than just implementing policies on mental health at work. A clear workplace policy on mental health is a good starting point as it outlines to employees the vision, values and principles of the firm but a shift in work culture towards talking about mental health should also be encouraged.

Line managers should be provided with the tools and training to ensure that they can spot issues with employees, and then 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; and appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn.

Many employers offer benefits to employees such as confidential helplines, access to counselling, mental health first aiders, and wellbeing workshops. Whilst these benefits may help to deal with stress and/or help develop resilience or coping mechanisms, they may not go to the root cause of the stress and so employers should make mental wellbeing at work a constant focus point. Employers should encourage a culture where employees are actively engaging with each other and their line managers, about all aspects of life and work, including their mental wellbeing. 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.

We all need to get better at spotting mental health issues within ourselves and in our peers. Ultimately, prevention is better than cure so if employers can take steps to alleviate stresses and provide support networks for their employees, then the mental wellbeing of employees should improve.

For further information or to discuss the issues raised by this update, please contact our Employment Group on 0118 977 4045 or

This reflects the law at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought as appropriate in relation to a particular matter.

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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