Mental health at work
30 November 2021
The Covid-19 pandemic has put strain on the mental health of employees across all sections of society. Concern over infection risk for people and their families, financial pressures, and fear over job security, has caused mounting stress for many. This has been exacerbated by the challenges of adopting new working methods, which have left some people feeling socially isolated, drained by the responsibilities of juggling childcare with work, and dealing with increased workloads when covering for absent colleagues.
The pressures of the pandemic have been unrelenting, and even employees who may have showed resilience to stress at the outset of the pandemic may begin to show signs of not coping or fatigue as time passes. Here we try to give some pointers for things employers may wish to bear in mind when grappling with these tricky issues.
Try to facilitate a good work-life balance
Employers can assist those who are struggling with the transition from home working to office working, or can prevent someone reaching a crisis point, by allowing a better work-life balance. This includes considering options for reducing pressures and giving fair consideration to flexible working requests. There is a legal process for employers to follow when deciding upon formal flexible working requests. Our previous article covers these requirements. Heavy workloads are a common cause of stress. Periodically reviewing workloads and setting realistic timescales for task completion can help avoid pressure building.
Treat employees as individuals
It is important for employers to remember to consider their employees’ unique needs and treat people as individuals. Even people with the same mental health condition can experience different symptoms at different times, and to varying degrees. A ‘one size fits all’ approach may not be helpful.
Increase the competence of managers
Training managers to spot mental health symptoms and address concerns can form part of their health and safety training. The Health and Safety Executive has guidance targeted at line managers. It is also particularly useful for managers to be confident on how to deal with managing absence, where mental health issues can present unique challenges. ACAS guidance provides a good starting point.
Avoid discriminatory practices
There are a range of mental health conditions which may entitle a person to legal protection against disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Where a mental health condition/impairment is substantial and has a long-term effect on an employee’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day tasks, it will usually be classed as a disability.
Where an employee has a disability, an employer is obliged to make reasonable adjustments to meet the employee’s needs. There are benefits, however, in providing support even if an illness is not obviously a disability, as this may in some cases, prevent a condition from becoming more profound or unmanageable.
A fit note can highlight when an employee is suffering from mental illness, and may make suggestions for managing a phased return to work. However, where more in-depth insight is required, such as how a condition is likely to affect the employee’s work, or when reasonable adjustments are necessary, a medical report or occupational health report can be useful. For more information, you may find it useful to watch our previous webinar ‘Managing Ill Health and Absence Issues in 2021‘, which is available here.
Employers should take note of frequent short-term absences where mental health is not mentioned, as there is still stigma attached to being open about these issues. Return to work interviews should be made routine, and are always a useful way of talking to employees about how they are feeling.
It can also be beneficial to offer an employee assistance programme and/or counselling services as an employee benefit.
Can we help your business?
Employers often benefit from legal guidance in this area; from flexible-working questions, to managing ill-health absences, to handling grievances concerning work-related stress or depression. Our team can help advise you on the best way to proceed for your business.
If you are an employer who is dealing with any employment issues surrounding the mental health of your employees, then we can help. Please call us on 01243 836840 for a no obligation chat, or email us at [email protected].