World Mental Health Day

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises World Mental Health Day every year on 10 October as a day to encourage education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma around mental health on a global scale. The focus for this year will be on mental health for all.

The working environment can have a significant effect on the mental health of workers and the mental health of workers can have a significant effect on performance at work. In recent years, various bodies including the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the mental health charity, MIND, have commissioned and published studies into mental health in the workplace. The findings are clear: almost half of UK adults have reported suffering from a mental health issue in their current job, and stress and mental ill health were among the most common causes of long-term absence from work.

“Employers have the ability to make real and tangible differences to the mental health of their employees.”

Lucy Flynn

An unmanageable workload was reported to be by far the most common cause of stress at work and in 2019, CIPD reported that the rising prevalence of presenteeism culture was potentially very harmful to health and wellbeing at work.  Although non-work relationships, management style and personal health issues were also cited as reasons for absence, the overwhelming conclusion was that workload was the main reason for stress at work, which in turn was one of the most common causes for absence.

Given the prevalence of stress and mental health issues in the workplace, it is perhaps worth understanding the basic legal obligations of an employer towards employees:

  • The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSA) imposes a general duty on an employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all its employees
  • The Equality Act 2019 imposes a general duty on an employer not to discriminate against employees on the grounds of any protected characteristic and a specific duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees
  • An employer has a common law duty to take reasonable care to provide employees with a safe place of work, safe equipment and a safe system of working
  • An employer has specific duties under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (SI 1999/3242) (MHSW) to
    • undertake risk assessments
    • implement measures to
      • avoid risks
      • combat risks at source
      • develop an overall risk prevention policy and
      • give appropriate instructions to employees regarding risk
    • provide information to employees about work-related risks to their health and safety

Employers must do all they can to reasonably to support the health, including the mental health, and wellbeing of their employees, and ACAS guidance suggests that it is very much in interest of employers to improve mental health within their organisations by

  • tackling the causes of work-related mental health issues
  • creating a culture where staff can discuss their mental health and
  • supporting those staff who are experiencing mental health issues

In practical terms, employers have the ability to make real and tangible differences to the mental health of their employees. In addition to providing a good working environment which balances work and home life, employers should consider identifying a plan for promoting good mental health at work for all.  Any such plan should meaningfully show how the employer will develop mindfulness across the organisation about mental health issues at work, encourage a culture of open dialogue and routinely monitor employee health and wellbeing at work.  In doing so, employers can help to raise awareness and remove the stigma attached to mental ill health.

About the author: Lucy Flynn is a senior employment solicitor with our sister company Beyond Corporate Law. She has a breadth of experience acting for businesses and individuals, advising on all general HR and employment law issues.

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