Employers and business owners just think about this - one in three employees have experienced a mental health issue at some time in the past. Therefore, as the workplace is where people spend the majority of their time, we think it’s important that employers are onboard when it comes to supporting mental health issues.

You might be thinking, “No, there aren’t any mental health issues in my business.  No one has said anything.” Well, would it shock you to learn that 95% of employees who are actually off work due to stress, give another reason for their absence? Or, perhaps you’d be shocked to learn that mental health issues are the leading cause of sickness absence? In summary, mental health related sickness absence is costing employers and business owners a large amount of money (an average of £1,035 per employee, per year apparently), not forgetting the associated drop-in productivity caused by being down an employee.

Now that we’ve got your attention, we want to try and help you to promote a supportive culture in your company toward employees who have a mental health issue, with some very simple steps.

Step One

Prepare your line managers. Do they know how to have a difficult or sensitive conversation with employees? No one likes doing this, but with the right skills it will make the whole process so much easier for all involved and greatly improve the chances of a positive outcome.

Encourage line managers to increase the degree of communication they have with their team members, and most importantly, remind them to listen to what their team members have to say.

Line managers’ attitudes towards mental health issues are pivotal to promoting the organisation’s cultural approach in this area.  Ensure that managers from the top down set the correct example, by arranging regular training on awareness and management of mental health issues in the workplace.  Rely Ltd are well placed to design and deliver exactly this type of training, and encourage all employers to incorporate it into management development programmes.

Step Two

Have those all-important policies in place, such as a sickness absence policy and a mental health policy.

Remember though, whilst these policies will be very helpful to ensure that a procedure is followed, it must be remembered that everyone is different. So, instead of passing judgement because an employee has been off for the fourth time in three months, don’t just pass judgement, investigate! We’re talking welfare meetings, return to work meetings, asking for permission to access medical records and if agreed, requesting a report from their GP or medical consultant.

In addition to this, having a flexible working policy in place will help a lot. Some things you might want to consider when it comes to flexible working might be for example, allowing an employee to work from home, or allowing them to adjust their hours so that they avoid travelling to work in rush hour. These could have the benefit of an employee with a mental health issue not taking time off sick, but actually continuing to work as they are able to avoid those stressors.

However, with any policy you need to ensure that your managers actually understand the policy intention and content, otherwise it just won’t work! So to ensure that your managers are properly equipped for flexible working queries, they should be given training about the policy and the procedure to follow.

Step Three

Be proactive in your approach.

Have those appraisals scheduled, and make sure you carry them out. Obviously, it is important that the manager knows what they are doing when completing an appraisal, so some training or at least a refresher wouldn’t go a-miss here, just to make sure that maximum benefit is obtained from the process.

Have a work-related stress risk assessment in place and use it. Use it when change is occurring in the work place, use it at random to get an idea of how everyone is feeling, use it if you spot an employee isn’t quite themselves. This will help flag up those stressors, and hopefully enable you as the employer to eradicate or mitigate them before they escalate.

Get those employee engagement surveys out. Sure, you’ll get some that will just use the whole process to have a whinge and a moan, but it will bring a greater benefit of giving your employees a voice. Such as, you might not realise that the location of the printer is actually causing so much stress to everyone because of the continuous noise and traffic throughout the office back and forth to the machine.

Start off correctly when it comes to recruitment. Did you know that in most circumstances it is against the law for employers to ask health related questions during the recruitment and interview process, including asking how many days sickness absence the individual has had in the last twelve or so months. It is for a job candidate to decide whether or not to disclose a mental health issue during the recruitment process. However, we would strongly recommend that you promote a culture of positive mental health and this can be done by publishing your equal opportunities policy as part of your recruitment campaign and being open to reasonable adjustments such as home working and flexible hours.

Once an employee has accepted the offer of employment, you could then ask them to complete a medical questionnaire. This could help to highlight a health issue, enabling the employer to initiate a discussion about any feasible adjustments that may have to be considered in order to help the new recruit perform the role safely and effectively. This might include taking time out to attend counselling sessions, or changes to their working area. If the employer shows an interest and understanding at this stage, it is more likely that the employee will confide in them at a later date about any other health issues.

Step Four

Understand the legal situation when it comes to handling mental health issues in the workplace, or have someone to hand that does; such as Rely Ltd.

Did you know, mental health falls under the category of disability under the Equality Act 2010. Potentially, by managing an issue incorrectly you could end up facing a claim of discrimination and ultimately a very hefty fine. Therefore, we would advise that when it comes to dealing with any health or HR related matters in the workplace, that you have experts to hand such as Rely Ltd who will be able to help ensure that matters are dealt with correctly, which will help eliminate the risk of a claim.

Statistics obtained from: www.time-to-change.org.uk

Disclaimer: The content of this webpage is for information only and is not intended to be construed as legal advice and should not be treated as a substitute for specific advice. Rely Ltd accepts no responsibility for the content of any third party website to which this webpage refers.