World Mental Health Day – employers take note…

By Samuel Buckley

It’s World Mental Health Day today (10 October), and this time it feels as relevant as ever
mental-health-buddies-feature-468x299—and also like the issue needs more than one day a year to address.

In the last few weeks alone, studies have revealed that mental health issues are becoming more common among young people, that three-quarters of UK workers have experienced a mental health problem and that suicide kills more workers than falls in the construction industry.

We’re also seeing a major disconnect between how employers and employees view mental health in the workplace: 97 per cent of managers eel ‘accessible’ when it comes to discussing mental health, but only 49 per cent of employees feel able to raise these concerns, according to a study by Business In The Community.

World Mental Health Day is a great opportunity for employers to start the conversation around mental health, but this is a conversation that has to continue beyond just one day. Employers need to take a sustained approach.

Business Disability Forum has done a lot of work with organisations in the UK and abroad to find practical solutions to this issue, with approaches based on reasonable adjustments, developing managers’ soft skills, employee assistance programmes and wellbeing initiatives.

Best practice involves approaching mental health issues with a few key points in mind:

  • An employee with a mental health issue may be considered disabled. Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where they know or could reasonably be expected to know about an employee’s disability, including a mental health condition, and to protect them from discrimination. Relevant workplace adjustments could include changes to working hours, flexible working, or changes in workload, as well as changes to the physical environment like lighting, position in the office, or measures to reduce triggers like noise or temperature.
  • As with other non-visible disabilities, there is no obligation for employees to disclose a mental health condition to an employer and it’s important to respect the privacy of anyone who does choose to share this information. 
  • It is absolutely not down to the employer or manager to try and diagnose a mental health issue in a member of staff, but the employer is responsible for identifying when an employee might require a reasonable adjustment – even if the employee has not specifically requested one. 
  • As with any non-visible disability, a mental health condition might manifest in a number of ways, including changes in behaviour, attendance, appearance, punctuality or performance.

There are real implications when it comes to tackling mental health conditions in the workplace. Figures from the Office of National Statistics indicated that 15 million work-days were lost due to mental ill-health in 2013, costing the UK economy £8.4 billion.

But the cost benefits of addressing mental health at work are also clear. Research by the London School of Economics and Political Science found that workplace mental health promotion programmes save almost £10 for every £1 invested.

Which brings us back to the study by BITC. While most managers admitted putting business interests before employee wellbeing, there is a clear business case that healthy employees will ultimately lead to a healthy business.

So mental health needs a focus that goes way beyond awareness-raising for World Mental Health Day: it should be a priority for businesses every day of the year.

If you want to find out more about the help and advice about mental health, please see our Line manager guide ‘Mental Health at work’ or visit our events calendar where you can find information on our upcoming events around reasonable adjustments, wellbeing initiatives and best practice.

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