Each year on 10 October, the World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day. The awareness day is an opportunity for us all to improve our own understanding of mental health, raise awareness and advocate against social stigma.

This year’s World Mental Health Day’s focus is ‘mental health for all’, aimed at ensuring that mental health assistance and advice is accessible for everyone, everywhere.

The impact of Covid-19 on our collective mental health cannot be underestimated; increased stress, pressure and feelings of social isolation have had a huge impact on the population’s mental health. Consequently, this year it is more important than ever to prioritise mental health.

With at least one in six workers experiencing some sort of mental health issue, World Mental Health Day is a good opportunity for employers to endorse positive mental health practices within the work environment. 

So, as employers grapple with the need to re-engage with their workforce, and to try and return to some form of normality, how can they support mental health at a time when simply being in the same office as someone can be a source of fear and disquiet?

What is mental health?

Acas defines mental health as, “the mental and emotional state in which we feel able to cope with the normal pressures of everyday life”. Like physical health, everyone’s mental health fluctuates along a spectrum. An employee’s work, how they interact with colleagues, and their working environment can have a huge impact on their mental health, whether promoting a positive sense of well-being or triggering problems when people feel badly treated or under pressure to perform. There is evidence that limited exposure to stress in the workplace can be motivational and cause employees to perform well. However, significant and sustained exposure to pressure can cause work related stress which can potentially lead to long term mental health issues.

We are all adjusting to the impact of Covid-19 and each employee will respond and cope with the situation differently. Some will have greater resilience to the lockdown measures, with feelings such as anxiety, motivation, sense of purpose, and isolation fluctuating over time.

Why is it important for employers to look after employee wellbeing and mental health?

Engaged, proactive employees are essential to the successful running of businesses. Through their interactions with colleagues, customers and clients, they are the public face of their employers. Poor mental health will lead to poor customer relations, staff absences and reduced productivity. Employers, therefore, need to think about how to engage with staff who are working remotely, or struggling with day to day pressures so that they feel valued and stay motivated as they adapt to new ways of working.

What should employers do?

Employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees. This includes their mental health and well-being as well as their physical health.

Those with mental health conditions can fall within the definition of a ‘disabled’ person for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone or to treat them less favourably because of their disability. Employers must make reasonable adjustments to support employees with disabilities. What is reasonable will depend on individual circumstances.

For those employees returning to the work environment, employers need to risk assess buildings and liaise with employees to identify and minimize workplace risks from Covid-19 and other health and safety risks. Doing this cooperatively will not only ensure compliance with the regulations but will also reassure employees of the safety of their workplaces.

Employers should consider adopting a range of measures to support employees mental health including:

  • Listening to and addressing fears about coming back to the office.
  • Supporting work-life balance.
  • Keeping in touch with employees on a regular basis by phone or virtually where face to face contact is not practicable.
  • Providing mental health awareness-raising activities to promote a culture where it is acceptable to talk about and seek support for poor mental health.
  • Improving communication between line managers and employees, for example through open door policies and investing time in listening to concerns.
  • Encouraging employees to raise mental health concerns, or any workplace concerns that may be exacerbating mental health conditions.
  • Having employee forums where they can provide feedback openly or anonymously.
  • Exploring reasonable adjustments that could be made to assist the employee in their daily role.
  • Encourage employees to make use of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), if available.

Importantly employers should make a concerted effort to stay in regular contact with their employees. For those working from home, they could feel isolated, or nervous about returning to the office; a simple call could provide reassurance and ensure the employee feels valued and engaged. Simple steps, such as a call or card, can make a significant difference.

Not all employees will feel comfortable discussing their anxieties with work colleagues. However, this does not mean that they are immune to mental health issues and a more open and accepting approach to mental health will inevitably benefit all.

How Blaser Mills Law can help?

Employees and employers have had to respond to this unprecedented situation with speed and flexibility, which has undoubtedly been challenging for all involved. With so many rules and regulations frequently changing it can be difficult for employers to navigate and keep on top of what is expected of them. Our expert lawyers are able to advise and guide you through all of the requirements, providing you with practical solutions to ensure you remain compliant.

For more information on the contents of this article, please contact Debbie Sadler on 01494 478671 or at djs@blasermills.co.uk.