May has long been recognised as mental health awareness month, with Mental health awareness week starting every year on the second Monday in May. In a world that is increasingly opening up to, and learning to understand those with mental health issues, it's no surprise that Mental Health Awareness Week is now a firm fixture on calendars around the UK and beyond, with additional recognition this year due to circumstances relating to the pandemic.
What is #mentalhealth?
Everyone has mental health and, like physical health, it fluctuates along a spectrum. It can vary from good mental well-being to severe mental health problems. Work can have a huge impact on mental health, often promoting well-being or triggering problems.
What does poor mental health include?
- struggling with low mood,
What are common mental health conditions?
- obsessive-compulsive disorders ,
- bipolar disorder.
Mental health problems affect around one in four people in any given year. Work related stress is a form of poor mental health, defined by the Health and Safety Executive as a reaction to excessive pressure or other type of demand placed on an individual at work. Stress can be a significant cause of illness.
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is #kindness, both timely and appropriate given never experienced before challenges that we are all facing. Due to the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic on mental wellbeing, ACAS have published new guidance in an attempt to provide additional support to employers and employees during this difficult time.
The guidance focuses on mental health support following a survey which found that half of people working from home felt isolated, and an even higher proportion were missing the social interaction of work. With the continued risks of covid19, lockdown measures, struggles to manage childcare responsibilities and concerns of job and financial security expected to continue for some time, never before has mental health been an issue to consider for the majority.
Duty of care
Employers should recognise the risks that work-related stress can pose. Employers have a duty of care towards their employees and to support those who continue to work from home, as well as to put in place an adequate support system to help those returning to the workplaces, mental health is an item high on the agenda list.
Employers tend to focus on managing physical health and safety, however it is a useful reminder that employers are legally required to ensure the "welfare" of their employees, and others, so far as reasonably practicable, when at work. This includes work-related stress.
The Charity @Mind have put together some useful tips for employers to pass on to employees to show their support and understanding to employees who may be struggling and finding the situation challenging:
- Encourage a positive work/life balance by reminding staff to take regular breaks, lunch and avoid working excessively long / unsociable hours.
- Arrange regular virtual meetings or check-ins, people miss speaking to other people!
- Consider alternative collaborative platforms to communicate and support each other to maintain a collegiate workplace and team building such as glass cubes.
- Encourage staff to create a Wellness Action Plan, which is details of practical steps in place to provide support when needed which is then reviewed regularly as the situation relating to the pandemic evolves.
- Embrace technology and video communication platforms e.g. Zoom, Skype, Google meet to connect with colleagues and work together.
- Remind staff of additional support measures in place such as Employee Assistance Programs, dedicated apps, websites, counselling sessions via skype or phone or physical activity classes such as yoga and meditation online. Ask employees what they might find useful.
Employers and employees are reminded that if employees suffer from mental health conditions, there is a possibility that the condition would be deemed a #disability under the #EqualiltyAct2010, subject to satisfying the test required. Employers are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments. What could reasonable adjustments be?
- Home working (even if the workplace is opened in accordance with Government guidelines)
- Additional support from management
- Supportive equipment
As steps begin to be taken to lift lockdown measures slowly, employers should be even more mindful of the impact on mental health on returns to work. There may be individuals who feel compromised by coming to work, or vulnerable due to family reasons (living with or caring for a vulnerable individual), still have childcare responsibilities or are genuinely concerned about their health and safety; all of which can have adverse impact on mental health and exacerbate stress and anxiety levels.
For further advice on how to manage mental health in the workplace especially given the extenuating covid19 circumstances; please contact Kaajal Nathwani Head of the Employment Department on 020 8363 4444.
This article has been prepared for guidance purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.