Employers must encourage staff to socialise to avoid mental health problems at work

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Businesses need to do more to encourage staff to put their phones down, socialise together and make time for friends and family to help avoid mental health problems in the workplace, employment experts warn this week. 

Specialists at law firm Blake Morgan say small measures like having regular “staff socials”, insisting that employees take lunch breaks and reducing the use of smart devices out of hours can improve work-life balance and help to avoid mental health problems. 

The advice comes at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from May 16 to 22 and this year focuses on the theme of relationships. 

The Mental Health Foundation says that good relationships with others inside and outside the workplace are vital for health and wellbeing – and are as important as lifestyle factors such as healthy eating, exercise and giving up smoking. 

Tim Forer, a partner in the employment team at Blake Morgan’s Portsmouth office, said: “There are so many demands on our time and attention in our work lives and at home, which means that employers and individuals alike are increasingly having to be more proactive in ensuring that important relationships are maintained and nurtured. 

“It is not enough to just fit family and friends around the demands of work, or to assume that staff are forging good relationships because they work together every day. Even when we have ‘free’ time, distractions such as work emails and social media get in the way. 

“It is important to make a conscious choice to invest more in the health and wellbeing of staff, and that includes allowing them the opportunity to invest more in talking and listening to colleagues, friends and family and socialising with them too. 

“Employers too need to take the time to think about how they can achieve this – and if that includes insisting on lunch breaks or encouraging work lunches or evenings out, then they should have a clear plan for this.” 

Employers have an obligation under the Working Time Regulations 1998 to give employees rest breaks and holidays. They need to take care to ensure that there isn’t an expectation that devices should be checked out of hours or while a worker is on holiday and that staff are not spending too much out-of-hours time engaging in work-related activity. Failure to do this could be a potential breach of the Regulations.  

Tim added: It’s a question of balance, but there is a responsibility on employers to send a clear message that work-life balance and good relationships are important, not only for the good of the individual but also for the benefit of the business.” 

For more on Mental Health Awareness Week click here