What should employers do to support the mental health of their staff?

Bernadette Bruckner talks about what employers should do to protect both their employees and their businesses when mental ill health becomes a problem

As employers, what more should we be doing to protect ourselves, our businesses and our employees when mental ill health issues arise?  It’s a big question.

In 2016/17, some 526,000 workers in the UK were suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing), with 12.5 million working days lost as a result. Meanwhile, UK psychotherapists working with those with workplace mental health challenges have charted a sharp spike in cases, and predict a further increase of 62% again in the short term.

There is a combination of factors for this. Stress, anxiety, workload, fatigue and bullying are included among them. So too is a growing awareness of mental health issues. MSBHelp.co.uk counsellors, for example, point to a growing willingness for people to admit they need help – and increasing awareness and understanding from many employers.

So, how can you best support your people, particularly if you’re unsure how to spot the signs?

The vast majority of employers want to look after their people, but getting it right is complicated. Any employer seeking to avoid their responsibilities in this area, or planning to simply ‘do right and hope for the best’, is ill advised.

Mental health issues are all entirely personal, and varied, and not every mental wellness issue is ‘visible’. However, the tell-tale signs that something is wrong are usually quite easy to spot – if you know what you’re looking for.

Counsellors recommend that employers should look for changes in patterns or behaviours, which can provide very clear signs that something is wrong. The most common signs to look for include:

  • Rise in unexplained absences or sick leave
  • Poor performance & time-keeping
  • Increased consumption of alcohol, drugs, tobacco or caffeine
  • Withdrawal
  • Poor judgement / indecision
  • Tiredness or low energy.

Employers must think carefully about whether these signs could be caused by work-based issues.

It pays to put wellbeing on your agenda

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees because of a mental or physical disability. Mental health conditions are now classed as disabilities, so the thinking must change accordingly.

In addition, mental health discrimination employment tribunals are increasing.  Ministry of Justice figures show that of the 23% of employment tribunal cases received in 2017, mental health cases accounted for the largest proportion, at 6%. Tribunal fees introduced four years ago were abolished in July following a Supreme Court ruling, removing funding as a barrier to taking an employer to court. Employers need to act if they are to avoid the potential for financial penalties – and the loss of talent.

The government will unveil further plans to simplify the enforcement of tribunal awards.  A naming and shaming scheme for employers who don’t pay out is also being considered; it’s a list no employer will want to be on.  Damage will be immeasurable and difficult to recover. The government is putting the responsibility for workplace mental health firmly in the hands of employers and failure to comply could spell disaster for a business.

What help should you offer?

The best way to tackle mental health issues is to identify them quickly, and then make reasonable adjustments within the workplace to accommodate your employee’s challenges and provide professional support. Not only is this best for your employee, but it’s the right thing to do for your business also. Behaviour or misconduct that can be linked back to a mental health issue makes it difficult for employers to justify not making reasonable adjustment.

Training courses can help you and your team identify potential mental health issues, and to understand what the best course of action is. Meanwhile, access to counselling can be one of the ways in which a company can support their employee and help improve their health.

Employers need to be seen to have made, and maintained, reasonable adjustments for those affected.  It is, quite simply, better for everyone if problems are caught early on.

Bernadette Bruckner is a partner at MSBHelp.co.uk (Mental Health Solutions in Business).

WIN: Mental health awareness training for your team

In partnership with LEAD, MSBHelp.co.uk is offering one lucky reader the opportunity to win a package of services that will help them to better look after the mental health of their people. The prize includes access to MSBHelp.co.uk’s 200-strong network of counsellors, training for mental health advocates within the business and support through information updates as further legislation is introduced. Click here to find out more and to enter