Mental health awareness in the workplace

Mental health awareness in the workplace – an update for employers

Work is often the most stressful aspect of our lives. A recent study by the charity, Mind has found that workplace stress results in 18 percent of people developing anxiety and 7 percent of people having suicidal thoughts. This can be a difficult topic for employers but is one that is extremely important.

Thursday 10 October marked 2019’s Mental Health Awareness Day and this year the World Federation for Mental Health proposed a focus on mental health promotion and suicide prevention. This is a matter of particular importance in the UK as last year there were over 6,500 deaths from suicide, escalating the issue to the number one cause of death for men under 45. Managing workplace mental health and wellbeing has a growing importance for suicide prevention especially as it is often the environment where early signs of stress are most apparent.

Absenteeism as a result of work-related stress, anxiety, and depression now exceeds that of physical injuries, with employees often choosing to take unexplained sick days rather than discuss their condition. Clearly, this impacts upon employee wellbeing but it also affects profitability. Analysts estimate that mental ill-health costs UK employers between £33 billion and £42 billion each year. By contrast, the World Health Organisation has found employees with good mental health are more productive and interact better with colleagues.

Employers owe a legal duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of their employees. This can be particularly important in relation to issues such as workload, bullying, and suicidal thoughts. The most positive changes employers can make can often be relatively small and inexpensive measures such as clearly defining job roles; undertaking risk assessments; and providing procedures for employees to raise concerns. Some other approaches to more specifically address mental wellbeing can include educating managers to better identify signs of stress, discouraging presenteeism, and providing flexible working solutions to staff with personal obligations. Where a risk has been identified, simply listening to an individual’s concerns can make a significant difference to their wellbeing and help the employer understand what workplace adjustments might be most appropriate.

Awareness of the risk of suicide is especially important in some workplace scenarios, for example, where bullying or harassment is alleged or where individuals are under threat of disciplinary action. Whilst these can be difficult situations to manage it is important to remember that all employees are human beings and are entitled to support. Possible support networks should be made known to employees who are struggling and, where leave is necessary, clear absence and return to work policies should be adopted. One situation to take particular care of is when suspending an employee. Suspension is a neutral act but can often carry a stigma in the eyes of the employee and/or their colleagues. Policies should be in place here to ensure clear communication of the suspension’s neutrality and to assess the effect the process has had on the individual’s mental wellbeing.

Preventing suicide may seem like a daunting endeavour but the biggest difference can be made by raising a little awareness. Thank you, therefore, for taking the time to read this, and do contact us at Acuity if you have any questions or concerns regarding mental health in the workplace.

For more information on the subject covered, please contact our Employment Team.

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