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Managing Mental Health in the Workplace

Last week saw social media awash with the hashtag #MentalHealthAwarenessDay which had people sharing positive messages and generally discussing mental health. While, it may seem that we are a little late into the discussion, given its importance we decided that it’s never too late. 

Personally, I was surprised the other day, while chatting with a GP friend, with their assertion that that it can be the misuse and abuse of drugs and alcohol that can cause depression. Most of us, me including, are under the misguided impression that people use substances to deal with stress and depression.

Whilst it is important to note that addiction is not a disability, the impairment caused by one, whether physical or mental, can be. 

There are large costs incurred to the business when a valued member of staff is absent due to stress.  These costs are not always purely financial either; for example, employers might be required to pay sick pay and wage costs for relief staff, but there is also the cost of time associated with picking up the extra work load, training and updating other members of staff, as well as recruitment.  Businesses need to also be conscious of the potential for a disability discrimination claim to be brought against them if they could be considered to have contributed to the condition.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them”.

They advise employers that the main causes of stress at work are –

1. The demands made on employees;

2. The level of control workers have over how they carry out their duties;

3. The support staff receive from their managers;

4. The clarity of an employee’s role in their organisation; and

5. The nature of relationships at work.

It is sometimes more obvious to employers how they should deal with someone with a physical disability, however mental health issues should not be overlooked or dismissed.

Here are our top tips for employers to guard against a culture of workplace stress:

1. It is vital that Managers themselves actively promote a healthy lifestyle; take lunch breaks, use full holiday entitlement, manage their working hours and have a good work/life balance and not just give lip service to workplace policies.  At the end of the day they are a role model and should lead by example.

2. There is often a stigma attached to mental health conditions and so employers need to be aware of the cultural attitudes towards stress.  Training should be given to line managers, including people skills and how to spot and manage common mental health problems. 

3. Ensure company policies dealing with stress and the management of sickness absence are consistently used by the management team

4. If reasonable adjustments are requested make them whenever and wherever you are able to do so. 

5. Where possible jobs should be flexible and roles be well designed. 

6. If absences happen, it is advisable for managers to seek appropriate health services (like occupational health) to help people back to work. 

7. Confidential telephone or in person counselling can form part of an Employee Assistance Program.

8. There should be open lines of communication between managers and staff.

9. Employees should feel valued and involved in their organisation. 

If you require assistance in managing an employee with a mental health disability or require assistance in updating your policies and procedures please contact Samira Cakali on 0113 350 4030 or at hello@scesolicitors.co.uk.

If you would like to be kept up to date with employment law and dispute resolution updates, please subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law and dispute resolution practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide.  Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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