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Partner and Head of Family Law, Rugby
World Mental Health Day happens every year on the 10 October. Its objective is to raise awareness of mental health issues and to mobilise efforts in support of mental health care around the world.
We work to live (or live to work), so it is important to be aware of how mental health support can apply to and enhance the employment relationship and the daily life of the worker (and so their team; and so the business as a whole).
Most people will be aware of the vague common law duty of ‘mutual trust and confidence’, which should exist between every employer and employee; but it can be difficult to see how this applies in practice. A large part of it will come down to confidence in the healthiness of that working relationship – the ability to relate and to appreciate on a personal basis.
Before you switch off, I’m not getting all ‘hippie’ on you! This isn’t about group hugs and sharing circles; but about mutual respect, an understanding of work/life balance and having confidence in the capacity for open discussion between employer and employee.
In ‘Mental Health at Work’, a report published last week by charity Business in the Community (the ‘Report’), YouGov surveyed over 3,000 UK workers in order to generate various snapshot statistics on the interplay of working life and mental health.
The Report states that 60% of employees have experienced a mental health problem due to their work, or in which work was a contributing factor, at some point in their career. 31% of the UK workforce has been medically diagnosed with a mental health issue at some point – with the most common diagnoses being general anxiety or depression.
Despite the common incidence of mental health issues throughout the UK workforce, only 53% would feel comfortable talking about mental health problems at work. Mental health is still a stigmatised topic, and the Report comments that ‘a pervasive culture of silence remains entrenched in the workplace.’
These statistics are not merely anecdotal. The employer can have a dramatic impact on the individual’s mental wellbeing; which in turn feeds in to the productivity of their team and the overall function of the business as a whole. Each business, after all, is a composite of its parts.
The Report asserts that although 91% of managers agree that their actions can impact on the mental wellbeing of their staff, merely 24% have received any training in mental health.
Clearly managers are not ignorant of the influence of their role, but some might lack the wider knowledge to know how to deal with wellbeing situations as they arise. A lack of awareness might inhibit empathy when an employee suffers some form of mental health condition, affecting that vital ‘mutual trust and confidence’; or worse, could mean that an employer falls short of the Equality Act on disability discrimination. As with many known physical diseases, mental health issues might well give an employee legal classification as a disabled person, affording them the same protections against direct and indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment.
Here are some steps to consider if your workplace could better support the mental wellbeing of staff:
Embed wellbeing into the business’ ethos by making it clear that managers are there to listen to all issues, and that discriminatory or stigmatising behaviour will not be tolerated;
Challenge the culture of silence by normalising conversations about mental health and supporting mental health charity awareness days;
Review the business’ wellbeing and commit to improvements in manager training where needed;
Always take care to respond to struggling employees with suitable suggestions for wellbeing support, including taking action to allow them to stay in work or return to work as needed.
The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health reported in 2009 that improved mental health support in the workplace could save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year. As the world unites in a push to better understand and respond to mental health issues, it might also be useful to bear in mind that a mentally well workforce makes for a healthy business.
Contact us if you’re concerned about workplace mental wellbeing or issues relating to any disabled employee.