Mental health awareness week – Top tips for employers: where are we now and where are we headed?
All business owners will already be aware that they owe their employees a duty of care. This means that they must do all they reasonably can to support the physical and mental health, safety and wellbeing of their staff.
This relates not only to the working environment, but to conducting appropriate risk assessments and providing protection from discrimination.
The pandemic brought not only the physical health, but the mental health, of the nation into sharp focus. Following the number of reports and surveys conducted over the last 2 years, it is clear that the pandemic had a significant, and often detrimental, impact on many people’s lives.
Campaigns for increasing support and access to help for mental health issues have been in place for many years, but the pandemic really highlighted the issue and brought it back on top of the agenda.
On 12th April, the Government opened a consultation on a “Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan” and is currently calling for evidence to seek views on what can be done to improve the mental health and wellbeing of the nation.
The consultation is part of the Governments goal to improve mental health and wellbeing as well as its 10 year cross-government plan to level up and address unequal outcomes across the UK.
What does this mean for employers?
The consultation is addressed to all and is not specifically directed towards employers. However, there are several key points which employers should note:
- The accompanying discussion note refers to the Government’s need for “compassionate employers who are able to meet us where we are at, and can support us to meet our full potential“.
- It encourages employers to be more understanding and compassionate with their workforce, and similarly encourages employees to consider what they look for in an employer.
- That one of the main challenges is the need for:
- a clearer role for the private sector (including businesses and employers) to prevent the onset of mental health conditions / ill-health; and
- wider implementation of workplace “interventions” to support mental health.
- One of the questions within the consultation is even directed at how employers can support and protect the mental health of their employees.
- It also considers the impact of earlier intervention – including by employers.
It is therefore clear that the consultation emphasises the ever increasing direction of travel on how important it is for employers to take positive steps to support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.
Why is it important?
This is not an issue that employers can ignore and all businesses should be taking active steps to safeguard and support staff mental health. Not only is this the current position by law, but the onus on employers increased during the pandemic, and looks set to increase in future given the queries raised in the consultation.
The risks in getting it wrong include:
- Increased absence and time off;
- Impact on productivity;
- High turnover of staff – time and costs involved in recruiting;
- Increased management time dealing with issues.
What can employers do to support their employees?
Many employers already do a lot to help their employees. However for businesses who are considering doing more we’ve outlined some top tips below:
- Create a supportive environment. Not only can this provide a framework for employees to speak openly about their own circumstances with their employer and their colleagues, but it can also provide employers with an opportunity to identify where employees may need a bit more support.
- Having open conversations on the subject of mental health may also improve workplace morale, as there is less opportunity for problems to build up.
- Open conversations can also help to reduce the stigma around mental health and wellbeing if employees feel they can discuss their own situation openly without judgement.
- Employers should make sure that all employees have regular one-to-ones with their managers, to talk about any problems they’re having and arrange mental health awareness training, workshops or appointing mental health ‘champions’ who staff can talk to.
Provide help to those who need it
- If you spot that a member of staff needs help then work with those individuals to make adjustments to their work. For example, employers may be able to provide relevant employees with more rest breaks or consider adjusting their hours of work or level of responsibility in order to ease some of the stress or pressure at work that may be affecting their mental health.
- Such changes help to demonstrate to employees that their employer understands and wants to support their wellbeing, and this can have a positive impact moving forward.
Commit to providing consistent and clear action
- Mental Health Awareness Week is taking place between 9-15 May this year, with the official theme being loneliness. The week is a great opportunity for employers to embrace this objective by running events or sessions to build a support network with (and between) their employees. In the context of the hybrid-working world, loneliness is a rising issue.
- Mental Health Awareness Week provides a chance for employers to work with employees to find ways to reduce loneliness when working remotely and strengthen relationships between colleagues.
- It is helpful for employees to see their employer taking positive steps to support their mental health and wellbeing, such as by implementing policies or running such events.
Make mental health a high and constant priority
- Check in regularly with all employees and listen to their answers. With a greater proportion of employees working virtually, it is important to make time for regular catch-ups and ask questions beyond “how are you?” to understand what employees may be going through.
- If an employee feels heard and believes that their employer is making time to reach out and find out how they are feeling, they are likely to feel supported in their place of work.
- In addition, regular catch-ups may encourage employees to feel like they can open up more, and start the important conversations around mental health and wellbeing. If this can prevent a problem becoming serious, it is usually a win: win result for both staff and the business.
Specialist employment law advice
If you are an employer looking for further legal advice in relation to mental health support or another employment issue, then our specialist employment team can assist you. Please get in touch by calling 0117 906 9400 or email email@example.com. Alternatively, please complete our contact form.