Caring for your employee’s mental health

The WHO defines good mental health as:

“a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stress of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused additional pressures in our everyday life which has resulted in an increase in mental health illness.

Mental health charity MIND undertook extensive research into the effect Covid-19 has had on our mental health and noted the following:

  • 60% of adults and 68% of young people have said that their mental health got worse during lockdown;
  • People with experience of mental health problems are more likely to see their mental health worsen due to the restrictions; and
  • Many without previous experience of mental health problems have experienced poor mental health during lockdown and have seen their mental health and wellbeing decline.

The Mental Health Foundation also undertook a survey last year and found that over a third of people in full-time work, that were questioned, were concerned about losing their job, and for those who were unemployed the mental health impact was widespread and severe.

The fear of losing a job combined with potential home schooling and lack of direct contact with friends, family and work colleagues can result in the employee suffering from mental health illness.

Therefore, it is important to look out for the signs of stress or anxiety in your employees even if they are working remotely.

Some of the possible signs of stress are a reduction in the employee’s performance including uncharacteristic errors, failure to complete work on time, loss of motivation, not taking any annual leave, being argumentative, crying, shouting, poor timekeeping, failure to log on to the work’s system from home, not taking any calls and keeping the video turned off during video calls.

If you are concerned that an employee is showing any of the above characteristics or is acting unusually you should approach the employee and speak to them informally about how they are feeling/managing in the current lockdown and whether they feel that they are able to cope with their workload.

By assisting with issues of stress or anxiety at work it may help with preventing their illness from developing into of disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.  The definition for disability in the Equality Act 2010 is: “A person has a disability if the person has a physical or mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities.” Stress, depression, and anxiety may lead to a mental impairment and could potentially be a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act.

If their illness is a disability under the Equality Act you are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to assist the employee at work. This may include changing the employee’s working hours, location, and a reduction in the workload.  If you do not make reasonable adjustments, you could be at risk of a claim at the Employment Tribunal. In addition, if you treat an employee less favourably due to their disability you will be at risk of a claim for disability discrimination. The award for discrimination is uncapped.

To assist with supporting employees, it would be useful for employers to have a stress and mental wellbeing policy in the staff handbook. The policy may include:

  • The employer’s intention to encourage positive mental wellbeing and try to identify and remove causes of work-related stress.
  • Identify channels of communication for employees which allows them to speak openly to someone within the Company without any concern of bullying or recrimination.
  • Provide training to managers within the Company. This could be general mental health training, or you could ask for certain members of management to be trained as mental health champions or mental health first aiders. This also shows to employees that you are taking steps to be a supportive and inclusive workforce.
  • Acceptance of the impact that work related stress may have on an employee and if appropriate, provide support and adjustments to their working environment. This may mean a temporary adjustment to the employee’s working hours, workload, etc.
  • Set out the processes that will be followed if an employee has been absent from work due to mental health issues or stress.
  • Access to external resources which provides counselling and wellbeing services.

Obviously, one of the points to highlight within a policy is that any information provided to you or a manager is confidential and that it will only be disclosed to those parties that need to be made aware of the situation. This should be identified in the policy to avoid any potential breach of the General Data Protection Regulation. If the employee’s absence becomes frequent and/or long term it may become necessary to refer the employee to occupational health and/or obtain a report from the employee’s GP.

If you have any employees that you are concerned about, please contact our Employment team. If you would like further information about external resources and a mental health app which provides a selection of tools to support employee’s health and mental wellbeing please contact Sophie Kirk at The Holistic Health Care Group sophie@theholistichealthcaregroup.com.  

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