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Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

Employment Law

1 in 4 of the population will experience mental ill-health at some point in their lives, and a new report by mental health charity Mind and consultancy firm Deloitte has Problems at workidentified that the cost of poor mental health in the workplace is increasing, with the cost to UK employers being more than £43bn in 2018, which is an increase of 16% since the last estimate of £37bn in 2016.

The report identified a number of factors leading to the increase, such as employees spending unproductive hours at work when ill rather than taking time off, and employee “burnout” due to technology making it easier to check emails and work outside of designated working hours.

Being Aware of Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

A significant number of employees will suffer from mental health issues and employers should be aware of and be prepared to address mental health issues in the workplace.

A recent CIPD survey found:

  • 37% of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues
  • 57% find it harder to do multiple tasks
  • 80% find it difficult to concentrate
  • 62% take longer to do any task
  • 50% are less patient with customers/clients

Stress-related illnesses are a major cause of long term absences from work and stress or any other form of mental ill-health can affect any employee at any level.

Stress – when does it become a problem?

Stress can be defined as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed upon them”.

People react to situations in different ways and what may be a stressful situation to one person is not regarded as stressful by another. Likewise people react to stress in different ways; some may find stress motivating, while others are debilitated.

There can be many causes of stress in the workplace, from too much work or responsibility to too little work or responsibility. Problems with colleagues or clients can also cause stress, as well as pressure to meet deadlines or targets. Stress may also be caused be issues outside of the workplace, such as marital breakdown, financial issues or bereavement.

Spotting the signs

It is important for employers to be approachable and to encourage staff to talk about issues that may be affecting them. Management styles should be tailored to the needs of each member of staff. Managers should be proactive and able to spot the signs of mental ill-health.

Signs such as:

  • Changes in mood or behaviours
  • Changes to standards or volume of work
  • Appearances of being tired, withdrawn, lack of interest
  • Increase or loss of weight
  • Increase absence/lateness for work
  • Drugs or alcohol issues

How can absences be managed?

If absences occur as a result of mental ill-health, employers should have a plan for managing these absences from work.

It should be agreed with the employee when and how regular contact will be maintained, including the best place to meet an employee.

Employers should be positive, supportive and professional and agree with the employee what information should be disclosed to colleagues. It is important not to pressure the employee to return early and employers may want to consider a phased return to work.

Occupational health and the views of the employee’s own doctor or consultant should be considered.

Dismissals due to illness

Dismissing an employee due to illness should only be considered as a last resort and an employer should alternatively look at helping the employee return to work, this can be done by:

  • Arranging an occupational health assessment for the employee
  • Asking the employee for their permission to obtain a copy of their medical report from their GP
  • Making reasonable adjustments to help the employee within their working environment such as, supporting the employee to manage their workload, changing contracted hours and flexible working hours to allow the employee to attend appointments for treatments

Legal obligations on employers

The Health and Safety at Work Act sets out employers’ duties to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees. It sets out rules that employers must abide by to ensure that the workplace is safe and those who work there are not in any danger both physically and mentally.

It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with these duties.

 Sources of Help and Guidance to address mental health issues in the workplace

  • ACAS
  • Access to Work – advice and assessments
  • MIND
  • Occupational Health
  • Doctors and Consultants
  • Trade Unions
  • Family, Friends and Colleagues

And last, but not least, from the Employee themselves!

Martin Bloom is the head of the Employment Law Department and a partner at Hegarty Solicitors. To speak to Martin Bloom about any aspect of employment law please call 01733 295 632 or email martin.bloom@hegarty.co.uk.

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