World Mental Health Day
October 10th is World Mental Health Day with the objective being to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world. Mental health problems exist in our lives, friends, families, as well as our communities, and the workplace is no different.
Employers and businesses have a duty of care, meaning they must do all they reasonably can to support employees’ health, safety, and wellbeing. This includes all aspects of wellbeing, whilst physical health, safety and wellbeing may be at the forefront of most organisation’s health and safety policies, mental wellbeing should be receiving the same level of attention and dedication.
Under the law, a mental illness, or mental health issue, can be considered a disability if it meets the following required criteria:
- It lasts at least 12 months, or is expected to
- It affects their ability to do normal day-to-day activities
- It has a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on the life of an employee
It is illegal for employers to discriminate or treat anyone differently without good reason because of a protected characteristic, in this case, mental health.
Mental Health at Work
Your job can provide you with structure, meaning, and lifelong connections, boosting your wellbeing being a positive aspect of your life. On the other hand, the workplace often contributes to poor mental health, with stress and burnout becoming increasingly common. It can also escalate and worsen existing mental illnesses which in turn, means employees are not able to work to the best of their ability.
When coping with poor mental health or mental illness, everyday tasks can be difficult, or impossible which impacts an employee’s work. Productivity is affected, as well as absenteeism, which costs employers millions each year.
Workplace risk factors include:
- A constant increasing workload
- A toxic workplace
- Long, inflexible hours
- Lack of training, guidance, or recognition
- Poor management
While symptoms of mental health can vary it is important to be aware of any changes to your mood, behaviours, and feelings. It is well known that mental and physical health are closely connected and so companies should recognise the importance of good mental wellbeing to the success of their business and put measures in place to ensure employees can access support if needed.
How Businesses Can Support Mental Health
Employers can offer support to employees who are struggling in many ways.
Make reasonable adjustments
If an employee has a disability, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments. This could involve making changes to the workplace itself, any equipment or services, or the way things are done. It is often a good idea to work with the employee to see what adjustments can be made to help prevent the escalation of any existing issues. Reasonable adjustments can be simple things such as allowing people to work remotely, take more frequent breaks, or providing structured support with their workload.
Promote an open culture
The actions of employees are often influenced, whether consciously or unconsciously, by senior management and those higher up in the company. When leadership talks openly about mental wellbeing, health and available care, employees become much more comfortable doing the same and raising any issues or concerns with their manager. It reduces stigma within your organisation and normalises opening up and seeking help.
Giving employees access to wellbeing resources can be a great preventative measure. Mental health apps are often easily accessible and in high demand from employees, making them a great benefit to offer. Programmes offering support can also be helpful in preventing the development or escalation of poor mental health. Employers can also consider providing access to healthcare professionals whether they be onsite, offsite, or through a digital platform. Offering access to care through a digital platform is often more convenient for employees and ensures anyone who wants professional help has access to it.
Adequate employer training
Much like every place of work is legally required to have first aid in place, employers should be aware of the risk factors and signs of poor mental health. Management should be trained on how to communicate appropriately with employees, how to identify signs of poor wellbeing and mental illness, and what to do in certain situations or crises.
Mental Health policy
Having a policy in place can help define your company’s approach to mental health and provide information on support towards mental health issues and disorders. This ensures that employees are aware that anything disclosed will be taken seriously and employers will work with them to give the right support.
For those severely affected by mental illness, reasonable adjustments may not be enough to improve their day-to-day lives. People with such conditions are used to managing them however are often not confident talking to employers or colleagues about them.
Disclosure is a crucial step in raising awareness and providing the right support to enable employees to perform their job roles. In workplaces where disclosure is encouraged and follows a clear process, employees are much more likely to access any reasonable adjustments needed. Where employers understand the varied nature of certain mental illnesses, the good days and bad days, and what support is required when those struggling are most unwell, employees have a higher chance of maintaining success in their role.