It is Mental Health Awareness week and this year the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) has chosen the theme of kindness to spearhead their campaign, stating they consider it to be a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health.
Most organisations are aware that providing support in relation to the mental health of their workforce is important. This year, more than ever before, it is a crucial area for organisations to properly consider as the Covid-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on how we all work and feel.
There are a number of workers who currently find themselves without their usual routine and may feel a sense of isolation being apart from their colleagues. For others on furlough leave, they may feel a loss of purpose and security. For many, who have to continue to work in difficult circumstances, they may feel scared. All of these feelings, on top of the usual stresses we face, are valid and will have an impact on individuals’ mental wellbeing.
So why is managing mental health in the workplace important from an employment law perspective?
All employers owe a duty of care to their employees and must do all they reasonably can to support their staffs’ health, safety and wellbeing while at work, and this includes mental health. It is important that employers take mental health seriously as it, along with a physical illness, can be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010.
An employer must not discriminate against any member of staff who is identified as disabled under the Equality Act 2010 and they must consider making reasonable adjustments when appropriate.
It can be difficult for an employer to identify an individual who is suffering from a mental health condition, as symptoms may vary in severity and over time, however, this does not take away from the employer’s duty of care.
How practically can organisations manage mental health at this time?
It is critical for businesses to ensure they prioritise the mental wellbeing of their employees during this unprecedented time and during any inevitable transitional periods which could cause stress. There are practical ways that this can be done, including considering the following:
- Employers should check-in with employees on furlough leave and working from home, to make sure they are coping. This could be as simple as a scheduled weekly phone call from a member of their team. Keeping in regular contact will help ensure staff do not feel forgotten or undervalued.
- If you are looking at bringing people back to the office, you may want to consider a phased approach which will ease the transition period for both the business and the individual.
- Many people worry that talking about their struggles may be viewed as a weakness so create a culture with an open attitude to discussing mental health. This can help those who may feel overwhelmed with work and will enable the business to ensure they do not either directly or indirectly discriminate.
- Businesses may also consider producing a Mental Wellbeing policy. This can be a clear point of reference for both those who may be struggling and their direct managers to assist them.
- Provide training to managers. Often how individuals are coping is not discussed because there is a nervousness about saying the wrong thing.
- Implement support chains for those managing wellbeing as those tasked with providing the support need support too.
- Be flexible! As noted above, these are unprecedented times and taking an overly rigid approach to mental health wellbeing is likely to be counterproductive.
According to the MHF, addressing mental health wellbeing at work can increase productivity by up to 12%. This strongly supports the idea there is an interdependent relationship between good mental health practices and a productive workforce. To put it simply, a little bit of kindness can go a long way!
BHW Solicitors have experience in providing advice and support in relation to all aspects of mental health management. If you have any questions or need any assistance, then please contact Amanda Badley on 0116 402 9019 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.