In October 2018, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, emphasised the importance of mental health awareness in the workplace. This followed a petition to Downing Street by mental health campaigners and businesses (including those such as Ford, WHSmith and Bupa) which gained almost 200,000 signatures in favour of a compulsory requirement for businesses to have mental health first aiders. Now, almost 3 months later, the House of Commons debated whether the use and implementation of mental health first aiders would be a positive step for employees and employers alike. Luciana Berger MP, introducing the debate proposes that the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 should be amended through secondary legislation to require a trained mental health first aider in every workplace. With the topic of mental health much more openly discussed and understood today, it is no surprise to see that further support is required for the health and wellbeing of employees in the workplace. 

Why is mental health awareness in the workplace important?

It is estimated that almost 1 in 3 people will be affected by mental health problems during the course of their employment. This will not only affect the individuals involved but equally, their employers. In his report regarding mental health in the workplace, Greg Clark highlighted that the economic and social cost of mental health problems in the UK equates to more than £100 billion per year. With approximately 70 million work days lost, it is the number one cause of sickness absence in the UK as well as the single largest cause of disability.

Research conducted by ACAS highlights that a lack of mental health support in the workplace can have a negative impact on employees in a number of ways:

1. 37% of sufferers are more likely to become involved in conflict with their colleagues;

2. 57% find it harder to juggle multiple tasks;

3. 80% find it difficult to concentrate;

4. 62% take longer to perform their duties;

5. 50% are potentially less patient when dealing with customers/clients.

In order to maintain a solid, strong workforce, it is not only a social responsibility for employers to ensure the good mental health of their employees but it makes business sense too. ACAS suggest that staff with good mental health are more engaged with their work, have good attendance levels and are likely to perform better than their colleagues who are experiencing mental ill health.

Ultimately, supporting employees who are suffering with mental health problems can save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year.

ACAS recommendations for improved wellbeing in the workplace

In order to tackle the issues outlined above, ACAS recommend the following ways to encourage employee wellbeing:

1. Autonomy – rather than dictating the exact way employees should carry out their duties, allowing flexibility and the freedom to choose a way that best works for them will enable employees to feel as though they have a voice within their workplace.

2. Clear Rules and Procedures – all employees should be aware of the relevant rules and procedures within the workplace. Ideally this should be done during the employees induction process where they are told what is expected from them during the course of their employment, what rules and procedures are present in the workplace and who they can refer and/or speak to if a problem arises. This clarity at the start of their employment will ensure that the employee does not keep any problems to themselves simply due to a lack of knowledge.

3. Security – this includes both physical and job security. Naturally, employees should feel comfortable in their place of work, thus it is important that employers provide their staff with the appropriate equipment for the job, suitable working environments and adequate Health and Safety policies and procedures. In addition to this, the pressure on employees may be somewhat relieved if they know that their job is secure.

4. Opportunity for Growth – by making it known that employees have an opportunity to develop their career, skills and responsibility within the workplace, it can motivate employees to work harder and perform better in the workplace.

5. Equality – with the recent rise of equal pay and discrimination cases coming to light, it is essential for employers to ensure that all of their employees are treated equally and where the work done is similar, employees should also be paid equally regardless of their age, gender, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or any other protected characteristic.

6. Promote Wellbeing – ultimately, it is important for senior members of staff to send a clear message to their employees that staff wellbeing matters.

In light of the recent focus on mental health and employee wellbeing in the workplace, it is likely that employers may also have to shift their focus and re-evaluate their own policies to ensure that adequate support is available for their employees.

The Freeths LLP Stoke Employment Team will be monitoring how this conversation develops and will be reporting on potential future guidance, requirements or policies which may be imposed upon employers.