Improving mental health in the workplace

Tim Forer, a partner at law firm Blake Morgan, gives advice on mental health support at work
Tim Forer, a partner at law firm Blake Morgan, gives advice on mental health support at work

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MENTAL Health Awareness week runs until May 14.

The theme of the week, an initiative of the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), is surviving or thriving.

In its report the MHF provides an analysis of mental health in the UK and explores why so many people are not thriving with good mental health.

The report also provides some suggestions for cultivating good mental health.

Generally, people are in good mental health but experience stress or anxiety from time to time.

Worryingly, the MHF found current levels of good mental health are ‘disturbingly low’ and our collective mental health is deteriorating.

The experience of poor mental health is not evenly distributed and if you are female, or a young adult, or on low income, or living alone, or living in a large household, the risks of facing mental ill-health are higher.

What can employers do to help their staff?

Employers have many legal obligations to ensure the health and safety of their staff and this means both their physical and mental health.

According to the CIPD Absence Management Survey 2016, while the average level of employee absence is the lowest level for seven years (at 6.3 days per employee per year), nearly a third of respondents reported an increase in stress-related absence in the past year – increasing to half in public sector organisations.

Two fifths of respondents reported an increase in mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

The Centre for Mental Health estimates that 91 million days are lost each year because of mental health problems at a cost to employers of £26bn a year or £1,035 for every employee in the UK.

It is therefore essential that policies and support systems are in place at work that are of benefit to both organisation and those who work for it.

Employers have adopted a range of initiatives to improve employee well-being and work/life balance. These include:

n Introducing a Mental Health First Aid scheme which sees trained mental health champions working to raise awareness of mental health issues and provide support.

n Encouraging flexible working where possible.

n Providing access to employee assistance programmes and counselling services in addition to health screening and private medical insurance.

n Putting in place and raising awareness about a Mental Health at Work policy to ensure staff know how mental health is managed and what support is available.

n Providing training to HR and line managers on mental health and stress management.

n Creating a more open culture where people feel able to talk about their mental health.

n Ensuring that in the digital age, staff work sensible hours and there are no expectations on them to access work-related devices out of hours.

n Promoting positive work relationships to support a culture of teamwork, collaboration and information sharing.

Initiatives like our own dedicated well-being, health and safety programme can prove very beneficial as part of a wider training strategy. 

All of our staff have access to a wide range of resources via an online portal and can attend courses on topics such as personal resilience or download resources on subjects such as managing stress, coping with change, mental health and mindfulness.