Employers warned over Mental Health Policies on National Stress Awareness Day

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Employers are urged to make sure they have the right policies in place to ensure they are supporting staff with stress and mental health issues.

The advice comes from leading law firm Blake Morgan, which has carried out a survey of employers ahead of National Stress Awareness Day on Wednesday, November 4th.

The firm asked employers to point out the biggest issues they faced when managing staff absences for mental health reasons.

Of those who responded, 63 per cent said communication was the biggest single issue, suggesting that both employees and managers needed to be made more aware of how mental health can be managed.

James Simpson, a partner in the employment team at Blake Morgan, said: “The difficulty regarding communication is understandable – HR or line managers are sometimes unsure about how often they should contact an employee who is off sick with stress, for example, or whether they should contact them at all.

“The simple answer is that they can and should – open and meaningful communication with an employee who is off sick is part of the process of managing the issue. Consider agreeing together the frequency of contact and how it should be made – for instance by text, telephone or email.

“Communication with employees who are absent long-term is particularly important to ensure that they don’t feel isolated or forgotten about. The important thing is that both parties understand that out of sight should not mean out of mind.”

Other findings from the survey include:

  • The average length of absence for mental health reasons was between one and six months
  • 16% cited unpredictable behaviour as the biggest problem arising from mental health issues
  • 16% cited disciplinary issues 
  • 5% said a lack of support from colleagues was an issue

When asked why employees might not be open about a mental health problem the reasons given were:

  • 48% shame and social stigma
  • 19% fear of detrimental treatment
  • 19% lack of awareness of possible treatments
  • 14% unaware of the problem themselves  

Employers are warned that if there are disciplinary concerns arising from mental health issues, they may need to establish whether the condition constitutes a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

If it does, employers may need to make reasonable adjustments in the disciplinary process – for example, allowing the employee to be accompanied at an investigatory meeting (where there is no statutory right to be accompanied) or permitting the employee to be accompanied by a family member at a disciplinary hearing.

James Simpson added: “It is estimated that 91 million working days a year are lost to mental health problems at a cost to employers of £30bn a year, so it is crucial to proactively manage mental health issues in the workplace.

“As we have found, communication is key and this can start with a clear policy which staff at all levels of the organisation are aware of and familiar with.

“There is a need for employers to develop a more open workplace and to create a culture where people feel comfortable talking about their mental health. It is also important to ensure that employees know what support is available, such as employee assistance helplines.

“By taking some relatively simple steps, it is possible to ensure that robust policies and support systems are in place that are of benefit to both the organisation and those who work for it.”

For more information on employment law services from Blake Morgan, click here.