Mental Health Awareness week took place between the 9th and 15th May this year. The official theme for this year was `loneliness’ and across the country, people reflected on loneliness and how it impacts our mental health. While the remainder of pandemic-era restrictions were lifted in England in February, almost two years of social distancing and isolation from friends and family has highlighted how loneliness affects people’s daily lives.
Long-term loneliness is closely linked to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. One in five workers feel lonely at work on a typical working day. As an employer, it is crucial that you don’t just focus on mental health during mental health awareness week, it is something that should be considered and supported throughout the year. Many employees don’t feel able to open up at work about their mental health issues and concerns. With 70 million work days lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK – which costs approximately £2.4 billion annually – it’s crucial that employers look to prioritise promoting constructive conversations while at work and improving mental health.
One way for businesses to do this is to provide regular opportunities for socialisation such as catered lunches or after-work socials, which help to foster a friendlier work atmosphere, and in turn will help employees feel more comfortable with colleagues and employers alike. Discrimination against those with mental health issues remains a problem in workplaces, even though a significant proportion of the workforce will face poor mental health during their working life. There have, however, been some positive changes in recent times. Stigma around some mental health issues such as anxiety and depression have improved, the NHS Long Term Plan has committed to creating a community model of mental health care and the government is in the process of reforming the Mental Health Act and consulting on a 10 year cross-departmental plan for mental health.
Reasonable adjustments for those suffering with mental health issues
Thanks to a number of high-profile campaigns by charities like Mind and Heads Together, mental health in the workplace is being given the recognition and support it rightly deserves. There is still some way to go before it is treated on a par with physical health, but more and more employers are taking on board its importance and making sure their staff mental health is taken care of.
As an employer, just like you would with someone who has a physical illness, you can make adjustments within the workplace to allow someone who is mentally ill to continue to perform their role effectively. A manager needs to have a supportive conversation with the employee about how their mental health condition impacts their work and what adjustments could help. This should be a two-way discussion about the nature of the adjustment required, but managers need to respect confidentiality. Examples of this are: adjustments to working hours or patterns, adjusting someone’s duties which can particularly help if someone is feeling stressed or under pressure, providing them with a supportive mentor, temporarily reducing someone’s hours, allowing them to work from home for all or part of their working hours, job sharing, minimising office noise or providing them with a quiet working space or increasing supervision or support.
It is best to document all things involved such as the initial meeting, what adjustments have been decided upon and when they have been implemented/how long they have been implemented for. You may need to keep these changes under review and adjust as necessary. Furthermore, Occupational Health may be needed to support these changes. As an employer you have a legal duty to support people with mental health problems, according to the Equality Act 2010. This act outlines an employer’s responsibility to take steps to make sure a disabled person, suffering substantial long-term impairment, has the same access to opportunities that involve keeping or gaining employment as a non-disabled person, and this applies to mental as well as physical health.