Emily Edwards
Posted on 6 Oct 2020

What should employers do to promote Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace?

It is increasingly being recognised that the mental health of employees is a crucial determinant in their overall health and that poor mental health can also lead to burn-out amongst employees, seriously affecting their ability to contribute meaningfully in both their personal and professional lives.

In the light of the current global-pandemic and the myriad of changes in the workplace, paying attention to your mental wellbeing and that of your colleagues has never been more important.

Introduction

Mental health is your state of emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices, all of which can have a huge impact on the workplace. It will come as no surprise that this year has been tough for many, employers and employees alike. In fact, the mental health charity 'Mind' has recently published research results stating that more than half of adults (60%) said their mental health got worse during lockdown.

Common mental health issues include:

  • stress (this is not classed as a medical condition but it can still have a serious impact on wellbeing)
  • depression
  • anxiety

Less common ones include:

  • bipolar disorder
  • schizophrenia

Mental ill-health can have both a direct and indirect impact on staff retention and productivity. Employers who ignore the issue, or who undermine the mental health of their staff, risk the health of the people who work for them, as well as the wealth of their business.

Employers have a legal obligation to take reasonable care of the safety of their employees under common law and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This duty applies to both physical and mental health. Employers should be:

  • carrying out risk assessments;
  • making sure the working environment is safe; and
  • protecting staff from discrimination.

A mental health issue can be considered a disability even if the symptoms are not continuous, or they are better at some times than at others.

If an employee has a disability, employers must:

  • not discriminate against them because of their disability; and
  • consider what "reasonable adjustments" can and should be made. Whether an adjustment is reasonable will depend on the facts in each case.

Failing to actively ensure wellbeing in employees, even when they are working remotely, can give rise to a number of claims such as discrimination, breach of contract or even personal injury.

World Mental Health Day 2020

Studies estimate that 1 in 4 people will experience mental ill health in any one year. In the light of this stark statistic, this year's theme for World Mental Health Day is 'mental health for all' and has been set by the World Federation for Mental Health. This theme aims to increase investment in mental health at both national and international level to counteract historic underfunding. As the need for mental health support is expected to increase, this push for better funding and awareness is particularly important this year.

Mental health considerations for workforces in 'the new normal'

Remote working

Many of us started working from home at the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, and in many cases, this move to remote working happened seemingly overnight. It is now clear that the 'new normal', and related working practices, are here to stay for the foreseeable future, so it is important to reflect on what can impact on our wellbeing during this time.

Depending on your business' circumstances, working from home can often be isolating for your staff, which can often act as a trigger for mental health issues; good wellbeing is important to maintain a productive workforce. A few simple actions you can take as an employer to promote mental wellbeing for remote workers include:

  • Having regular catch-up with your colleagues in a mix of team meetings and one-to-one sessions. Good communication is essential to ensure staff feel supported and minimise stress. Many employees miss the impromptu catch-ups with colleagues when working at home, so you may consider setting up virtual coffee or lunch breaks.
  • Checking in on people who are sending emails late at night, or exhibiting changes in behaviour and making the effort to ask employees about their work/life balance and what people are doing to keep themselves well.
  • Ensuring that your employees have all the equipment necessary to carry out the job. Whilst, as an employer, you will have little control on your employees' new working space, and it is often difficult to create boundaries when working in a home environment, do what you can to ease this effect.
  • Being inclusive. When planning social events, bear in mind part-time workers and those working alternative working hours so that everyone can take part.

Transitioning back to work

Employees should be made aware of the risk assessments undertaken and the health and safety measures in place to protect them whilst at work; this should be set out in writing as well as through other visual reminders on the premises. Many employees may be feeling anxious about their return to work, particularly if they have been on furlough for an extended period and have not been in regular contact with their colleagues. You might consider encouraging employees to attend informal virtual socials ahead of their return to work, as well as holding one-to-one meetings to check in with them. Also, consider whether any extra training is required, so they feel comfortable and prepared for the transition back to work.

Redundancy

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a huge financial strain on businesses of all sizes. Even with support measures being put in place, such as the Job Retention Scheme, and the upcoming Job Support Scheme, staffing issues are expected to continue. Many businesses will be making the difficult decision to reduce their workforce and start the redundancy process.

Even before the global pandemic, redundancy was an extremely challenging process for all involved. Being open and transparent with employees is extremely important, as well as signposting them to any additional support materials. Conducting a redundancy process remotely is going to present additional hurdles which will need careful consideration.

What should employers be doing?

Most people have found themselves under pressure in recent months and lockdown has undoubtedly affected us all in different ways. It is important to bear in mind that an employer's failure to properly address mental health issues can leave employers legally exposed in a number of ways. World Mental Health Day is a great opportunity to make a positive change in your workplace, some action points to consider are:

  1. Educate

To effectively promote mental wellbeing and prevent ill mental health, it may be appropriate to provide training on mental health so that all employees are aware of the potential issues and know where they can find support if needed. Ideally, this training would be conducted by someone with relevant experience and training in dealing with mental health. Given that mental health is ever-changing, training opportunities should be ongoing.

  1. Communicate

Problems with mental health are less likely to build up and create more lasting consequences down the line if staff feel they are able to speak openly about any mental health issues they are having. Having regular communication can help provide some certainty and reassurance for employees who may be feeling anxious, and can improve morale in the workplace overall.

  1. Commit

Commit to creating a supportive environment that is appropriate to your business. Consider appointing a mental health 'champion' – someone at work who leads on changing attitudes to mental health as well as offering support in other ways. For example, forming a mental health support group, or mental health network with other businesses or organisations. Ensure that any support measures put in place are advertised to employees, whether this is via business-wide communications or during one-to-one meetings.

This article is for information purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Please contact Emily Edwards or Rachael Lloyd to discuss any issues you are facing.