HR Expert: Making mental health a workplace priority

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Q. A client has contacted me, concerned that the level of absences for mental health issues are increasing in their business. Inspired by Mental Health Week, which in 2024 falls between 13 and 19 May, they want to make supporting employee mental health a priority. Is there any advice you can offer on how they can do this?

A. Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive show that stress, depression or anxiety accounted for the majority of days lost due to work-related ill health in 2022/23, at 17.1 million. On average, 19.6 days working days were lost for each person suffering with these mental health issues. That, alongside the findings of the mental health charity Mind that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem, every year, means that making efforts to support employee mental health is a worthwhile priority to have.

Your client can show its commitment to employee mental health by introducing a mental health policy. This should set out its legal obligations and outline what actions will be taken to ensure a safe and non-discriminatory environment for employees. The policy can also outline how your client will respond to issues caused by poor mental health.

Mental health policies can include:

• Adjustments during the recruitment and selection processes for those with poor mental health.
• Examples of indicators of poor mental health.
• How the organisation will support action planning to help improve mental health.
• Workplace adjustments.
• How absences caused by poor mental health will be managed.
• Supporting those absent through mental ill health in returning to work.
• Confidentiality and disclosure to third parties.
• Additional support such as employee assistance programmes.

It should be accessible by all members of staff, and they should be encouraged to read it.

To help promote a workplace culture that supports mental health, your client can take steps to raise awareness of mental health and what it is doing in the workplace to support it. This can increase understanding of mental health conditions and their symptoms, and counteract any negative stigma associated with mental health. In turn, this can encourage greater tolerance of mental health at work and help employees be more understanding of the impact poor mental health can have on their colleagues.

Awareness can be raised through days dedicated to supporting mental health or participation in awareness events such as Mental Health Week. Your client could also consider implementing an employee assistance programme that can provide external support and counselling for employees struggling with their mental health.

As well as raising awareness of mental health, your client could also organise specific mental health training to help the workforce become more informed about this area and to highlight what support is available if an individual, or team member, experiences mental ill health.

Training managers on how to spot mental ill health and manage an employee struggling with this this can be invaluable, as it increases the likelihood of issues being identified and dealt with sooner that otherwise.

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