Employers Must Address Mental Health Problems; Victoria Duddles, Associate in the HR Rely Team at Weightmans LLP, Explains Why Employers' Ignore the Mental Health of Their Staff at Their Peril
Byline: Victoria Duddles
ACCORDING to the Centre of Mental Health, 91 million work days are lost each year due to mental health problems, and the Department of Health estimates that one in four of us are likely to have a mental health problem at some stage in our lives.
And with the return to recession now confirmed and increasing demands on employees to balance the care of both children and elderly parents; depression, stress and anxiety are all problems that could become more frequent.
Given these figures, it is likely that employers, if they have not had to do so already, will have to deal with mental heath issues arising in the workplace.
Often regarded as an elephant in the room, mental health issues remain a stigma in many workplaces.
Even if it is not their own employees who have mental health problems, there can still be a knock-on effect for employers where the dependant of an employee has a mental health issue, requiring the employee to have time off work for dependants or to put in a request for flexible working. Whilst an employer may have little control of events outside of its own workplace, there are steps that it can take to manage mental health issues within work.
Employers, in any event, have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments where an employee has a mental impairment that amounts to a disability if the employer's premises or arrangements put the employee at a substantial disadvantage.
However, managing mental health in the workplace isn't just about what the employer's legal obligations are.
Managing mental health is about having a work environment which doesn't stigmatise employees with mental health conditions or make them feel stigmatised.
So what would such an environment look like? First of all, it would be an environment that would encourage employees to disclose a mental health issue without fear of being treated less favourably for doing so.
The Equality Act 2010 prevents employers from asking employees health questions prior to offering a job, subject to certain exceptions, but an employer is able to ask health questions of all potential employees once an offer has been made.
If an employer is on notice that an employee has a mental health condition, this provides an opportunity to speak with the employee to understand if there is anything that needs to be considered, whether there are particular triggers that aggravate the condition and whether there is anything else about which the employer needs to be aware.
Good management of all employees, not just those with mental health problems, is key to managing mental health in the workplace.
Good management includes a proper induction process, work planning sessions and regular communication with employees.
In 2011, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) published its Employee Outlook Survey (2011). This revealed that, of the 97 per cent of the respondents who had poor mental health, for an overwhelming majority of these respondents, it affected their ability to concentrate.
The majority of the same respondents said that their performance was also affected in that they had difficulty making decisions, found it difficult to juggle tasks and took longer to carry out duties. …