This week (10th-16th May), the Mental Health Foundation is hosting its annual Mental Health Awareness Week.
This year’s campaign is especially timely. Over the past 14 months, millions of people have suffered unprecedented disruption to their personal and professional lives. This is likely to have exacerbated existing mental health conditions and created new ones.
According to the Office of National Statistics, one in five adults has experienced some form of depression over the course of the pandemic, compared to one in ten before the pandemic. And 19 million people have suffered from high levels of anxiety.
With disrupted working patterns and uncertainty about future employment, the workplace has become a focal point for these issues. We’re sure you will want to do everything you reasonably can to support your employees, but you may be unsure of the best way to proceed. In this blog, we’ll set out your responsibilities and offer some practical tips for improving mental health in the workplace.
Mental health is covered by H&S legislation
Existing health and safety legislation places equal weight on the physical and mental well-being of employees. As an employer, you have a legal obligation to help employees who are suffering from depression, anxiety, stress or any other mental health condition. This is the case whether these issues are caused by work, or simply aggravated by it.
In addition to these legal requirements, the government provides a set of “core standards” for employers. These were created with the input of mental health charity Mind to act as a framework for improving workplace mental health. The recommended actions include:
- Creating a mental health at work plan
- Encouraging open conversations about mental health and working to reduce stigma around mental health conditions
- Monitoring the effects of any actions you take to improve mental health and updating them if they prove ineffective
Managing stress at work
Stress is one of the most common causes of poor mental health in the workplace. Even before the pandemic, a survey by Investors in People found that over a third of UK workers had considered resigning because of work-related stress. This number is sure to have grown in recent months.
Many working parents have spent much of the last year trying to juggle home working with increased childcare responsibilities. Other workers have found that the lack of a clear boundary between work and leisure time has made it difficult to “switch off”.
All employers are required to carry out a stress risk assessment. If you employ more than five people, you must keep a written record of this. The HSE provides a useful set of management standards. These identify six key areas of work design: demands, control, support, relationships, role and change.
You should look at each of these in turn to identify potential stressors and consider ways to reduce their impact. In light of the pandemic, existing stress risk assessments should also be updated. If you need some guidance, please contact us.
Creating a more open environment
There is still a great deal of stigma around discussing mental health issues. As an employer, you can achieve a lot simply by encouraging an open conversation. Let your employees know that it is okay to ask for help, and be sure to check in with your staff regularly.
Some employees may not feel comfortable sharing problems with their manager. This is one reason why the government also recommends that you train a mental health first aider to provide support in these situations.
Focusing on mental health helps everyone
Prioritising mental health doesn’t just ensure that you meet your legal obligations; it also brings a number of other benefits:
- Poor mental health costs UK employers £26 billion each year as cited in a report by Mind, the mental health charity. On average that is £1,035 per employee. Spending a little time and money on improving mental health support can save you a great deal in the long run.
- Employees who are struggling with their mental health may be forced to take time off at short notice. This increases the workload for other employees, potentially harming their mental health too. Providing mental health support helps to avoid these disruptions and ensures that work is fairly allocated.
- Gaining a reputation as a caring company will help you to recruit the best talent, as increasingly people are prioritising mental health as a major factor when choosing a company to work for.
For advice on preparing a written stress risk assessment, or more information on our range of eLearning courses for upskilling your team on mental health, don’t hesitate to get in touch.