Mental Health in the Workplace

Last week was Mental Health week so we thought that this would be a good time for you to look at what you do as a company to manage this growing issue in the workplace and what, if anything, you could do further to raise awareness, keep people safe and abide by the law.

All employers have a legal duty is to protect their employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on its significant findings.  HSE defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’.

Did you know that:

  • mental ill health affects approximately one in four people in the UK.
  • stress, depression and anxiety are now recognised as the biggest reason for absences in the workplace.
  • the number of days taken off work with mental health problems is increasing by approx. 25% year on year.
  • a recent survey has shown that it is still unfortunately the case that 7 out of 10 workers feel unable to approach their managers, due to a fear of looking weak.

An example of where an employee could feel stressed would be where they feel they do not have the skill or time to meet a deadline. To manage this employers should ensure that they match their demands to an employees’ skillset and allow sufficient time to complete the task. If activities are planned, training is provided and support is available, the pressure, and the stress levels that can accompany them, can be reduced if not removed.

As an employer it is therefore essential to understand how best to manage stressful conditions within your workplace and how best to support employees.  You need to first consider:

  • Who may feel stressed and overloaded due to their work or working conditions? – this is work related stress.
  • Who in the workforce has been diagnosed with mental ill health? because whether it has been caused by work or not the effects could affect their safety and wellbeing at work.

To help you determine the answer to the first question, consideration needs to be given to the company’s activities and its employees, taking into account the Management Standards. These are the six things that that HSE expects you to incorporate into your risk assessment for work related stress.  They are:

  • Demands: Are any employees struggling to cope with the demands of their job?
  • Control: Do any employees feel they are unable to have a say about the way they do their work?
  • Support: Do any employees feel that they do not receive adequate information and support from their colleagues and superiors?
  • Relationships: Have any employees been subjected to or are being subjected to any unacceptable behaviours, e.g., bullying at work?
  • Role: Do all employees fully understand their role and responsibilities and / or are any employee of the opinion they lack appropriate training?
  • Change: Do any employees feel that the organisation is not engaging with them adequately when undergoing organisational changes?

If the risk assessment asks these questions, you should have identified the main risk factors as they pertain to your workplace, further allowing you to then focus on the root causes. You will then have to decide on the precautions needing to be in place to manage those risks.  If these determined precautions can be seen to be demonstrably practiced, then it will likely, when considering the whole process (policy, risk assessment, procedures (SSoW), training, monitoring), be deemed that you are doing what is required to manage the risk. Further to that, the review process should allow you gauge your progress and decide if anything further needs to be done to reduce risk or if you are managing the risk affectively.

Mental health problems in the workplace, if not managed effectively, can lead to

  • a high turnover over in staff
  • absence
  • accidents
  • presenteeism – the act of being present at work whilst sick
  • leaveism – working whilst on holiday
  • mistakes
  • low productivity

Recommendations for employers:

  • Create a business case to demonstrate the positive business reasons that exist for supporting staff with mental ill health. This will allow you to budget for and then put in place a strategy to ensure that all managers and supervisors understand issues such as conflict management, presenteeism, leaveism, employee engagement and staff turnover.
  • Understand mental health by educating yourself and your managers on the most common conditions, the relevant legislation and industry guidance.
  • Make sure your policies, procedures and risk assessment(s) are in place and up to date.
  • Ensure provision of the best possible working environment. Engage with the workforce through the consultative process and offer support to employees by promoting wellbeing.
  • Tackle the causes of mental ill health by making sure you have and can continue to identify workplace stressors.  Monitor the workplace to notice any early signs of a mental health illness so that if required an early intervention can be made, to try and stop a problem from escalating.
  • Consider adding training for mental health first aid, as trained mental health first aiders can spot signs and symptoms and offer advice and support, but a note of caution, these people should not be diagnosing, or acting in the stead of medical professionals but rather signposting to enable professional advice to be given.
  • Encourage openness and talk to employees in a supportive and confidential way in order to allow them to be honest about their feelings. If possible, draw up a document that identifies mental ill health triggers and reasonable adjustments. If appropriate, consider if an ethics or whistleblowing helpline should be set up to ensure that unacceptable behaviour can be reported and investigated at an early stage.
  • Promote rehabilitation and understand the return-to-work process from fit notes to reasonable adjustments and communicate this to the relevant people. Ensure a process is in place for those returning to work, which ensures they receive the best possible integration and support.

If this alert has raised questions or you need to discuss any other health & safety related issue do not hesitate to contact your health & safety consultant or the main office for advice / assistance.