Mental health in the workplace: what employers need to know

Mental health has gone from being a long-ignored issue to something at the forefront of employment discourse. Which is perhaps not surprising considering the fact there is an estimated annual cost to employers of £30bn due to lost production, recruitment costs and absence relating to mental wellness. Employers small and large are now expected to take steps to safeguard their employees’ mental health.

Aside from the altruistic incentives of becoming a mental health-positive employer, there are business benefits to taking a more caring approach. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) suggests that in environments where staff feel they can openly talk about mental health, they are less likely to take time off for mental health issues.


Your legal responsibilities

As an employer, you have a ‘duty of care’ to do all you can to reasonably support your employees’ health, wellbeing and safety. This includes protecting staff from discrimination. Should an employee’s mental health issue be considered a disability, you are legally required not to discriminate against them because of it. You must also consider any reasonable adjustments that might remove or reduce the effects of your employee’s disability so they can do their job.


What is a supportive environment?

A supportive environment is one in which employees feel safe and able to talk openly about mental health. Research by the charity Mind says that currently, less than half of people diagnosed with a mental health illness felt they could tell their boss.

Employers should make it clear to all their staff that the organisation considers mental health to be as important as physical health. Set up regular meetings with employees to talk about any problems they might be having, not just workplace issues. You might also want to look into giving staff Mental Health Awareness Training (MHAT). The charity Mind also has a selection of free resources for employers.

Reasonable adjustments

Employers need to be flexible with employees who are suffering with their mental health, since 14.8% of people will experience mental health problems in the workplace. Knowing this, it’s sensible to prepare protocols and set up support for when a member of staff needs help.

Reasonable adjustments an employer may consider could include giving employees flexible working hours, or giving time off to attend appointments such as weekly counselling sessions.


The bottom line

Mind reports that 40% of all GP appointments now relate to mental health so employers not only need to act to support their staff, but also to support their business interests.

The Mental Health Foundation stated that in 2009, “Introducing a workplace intervention in the form of an employee screening and care management for those living with (or at risk of) depression was estimated to cost £30.90 per employee for assessment, and a further £240 for the use of CBT to manage the problem. According to an economic model, in a company of 500 employees where two-thirds are offered and accept the treatment, an investment of £20,676 will result in a net profit of approximately £83,278 over a two year period.”