MENTAL HEALTH | Putting it on employers’ agendas


MENTAL HEALTH | Putting it on employers’ agendas


One in four of us will experience poor mental health at some stage in our lives.

Yet despite how common poor mental health is, the Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employers highlights that only 39% of organisations have policies or systems which can support employees with common mental health conditions and only 24% of managers have received training on mental health issues.

This failure to address poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion per year – absenteeism costs £8bn, presenteeism costs between £17bn and £26bn and staff turnover costs £8bn.

Fortunately, the report found that poor mental health is often preventable and recovery is possible in many cases, so it’s in an employer’s best interests to support their employees to avoid huge costs.

£ 0
Cost to UK employers

Endorse from the top

It’s vital to ensure that your top managers openly promote the importance of mental health, encourage employees to talk to their managers and seek support at work. This sends the message to employees that it’s something that is taken seriously.

Promote an open door policy

The report highlights that only 11% of employees talk to their line manager about a mental health condition. It’s important to have clear and well-defined communication channels and to create a workplace culture where an employee feels that they can come and talk to their manager without being ridiculed, subjected to unfair treatment or marginalised.

open door policy mental health

Some employees may feel embarrassed or fear that it will be seen as sign of weakness and will not want to open up. However, if you can show that you are sympathetic and willing to listen, you can take action and minimise the risks of employees taking long absences or deciding to leave their job.

Carry out return to work interviews

If an employee takes frequent, short-term absences, carrying out return to work interview is a good way to explore the reasons and nature of the absence. If there are signs that they are suffering from a mental health condition, you can consider what practical steps can be taken to assist the employee.

You can ask the employee:

  • What was the reason for the absence?
  • If the absence was because of stress, ask them what may be causing that stress.
  • If the stress is caused by work, see whether or not it’s possible to alleviate that stress. For example, you could consider reducing the workload if that is an issue.
  • If the stress is caused by other factors, ask whether there is anything that you can do to help.
Learn more about the benefit of return to work interviews here.

Watch out for the signs

You should be having regular one to one meetings or conversations with your employees to see how they are. By doing this, you may be able to pinpoint some key red flags, for example, you may notice they are smoking more, their appetite has changed, they are making uncharacteristic mistakes, they seem more withdrawn, or they are reacting differently to people or certain situations.

Of course, there are not obvious warning signs for all conditions, which is why it’s important to have frequent meetings to detect any concerns.

Tackle any issues that arise

Line managers should spot any warning signs and take steps early to avoid things escalating. You should talk to the employee in private, explaining what you have noticed and asking how they are feeling. It may or may not be a mental health condition but with this conversation, you can try and find out what is going on and what the next appropriate steps are.

If they do reveal a mental health condition, you should delve into how the condition affects them and what adjustments you can provide to help them. It may be useful to create an action plan, which looks at what triggers the employee’s condition, how it can be minimised at work and what to do if they are very unwell. Talking this through with an employment law expert will ensure that you are providing the right support as well as being on the right side of the law.

If they insist there is no problem, you should keep an eye on them and make them aware that they can come and speak to you whenever they like.

Remember the Equality Act

Under the Equality Act, a worker will be considered ‘disabled’ if they can show that they suffer from a long-term physical or mental impairment which has a substantial effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

Employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to the worker’s working practices, policies and procedures. For example, if they are suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, you could consider giving them a private office or providing a walled partition if they are anxious about working in an open place office and this is affecting their ability to concentrate and focus on tasks.

Manage absences

If short-term sickness evolves into longer-term absence, it’s important to keep lines of communication open. Maintaining regular contact with the employee will keep you informed of the employee’s progress and whether there is anything you can do to assist them back to work, for example, a phased return. If a return does not look likely in the near future, plans can be made to put in place temporary cover or to distribute the workload to others in the team.

However, while it’s important that the employee must not feel cut off by their manager, equally they should not feel harassed by frequent calls or visits. If someone has anxiety or stress, you don’t want your contact to make their condition worse, so make sure you think about the nature of the contact and its urgency.

Finally, if an employee’s mental health is being negatively affected by work, you need to explore with them how to prevent further absences. For example, assess their workload, provide training or mentoring, etc.

Give relevant training about mental health

Mental health is still not fully understood, so make sure to provide training to both your managers and employees to erode the stigma attached to mental health.

Mental Health Training

This course provides a general overview of mental health in the workplace and gives practical steps of how to recognise and manage mental health issues that may arise.


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