With “National Stress Awareness Day” around the corner (2nd November), employee health and wellbeing should be at the top of organisations’ agendas. In the era of remote working and high employee turnover, mental wellbeing is not just seasonal but a year-round concern.
A 2023 report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Simplyhealth on health and wellbeing at work found that mental ill health is the top cause of long-term absences, and 76% of organisations report some stress-related absence. Heavy workloads and management style were the most common reasons for stress.
Employers’ legal duties concerning employee wellbeing
Employers have a duty of care towards their employees, which means they must do all they reasonably can to support employees’ health, safety and wellbeing. Employers must treat mental and physical health as equally important.
Employers should be aware that an employee suffering from mental health issues could be defined as disabled under the Equality Act 2010. This will be the case if their mental health has a “substantial adverse effect” that lasts (or is expected to last) at least 12 months and which affects their ability to do their normal day-to-day activities. In legal terms, “substantial” means more than minor or trivial, which could mean the employee is hindered in activities like concentrating, interacting with others, or making decisions.
If an employee is disabled, employers will have a duty not to discriminate against them because of their disability and will also be obliged to make reasonable adjustments if necessary. Examples of reasonable adjustments might include flexible working hours, re-allocation of duties or providing special equipment.
Even if an employee is suffering from mental health issues that may not be a disability under the Equality Act 2010, it is a good idea to work with the employee to make adjustments. Often, making simple changes, for example, working with them each day to help them prioritise their workload, can be enough.
Support organisations can offer
A happy, healthy workforce is undoubtedly more productive than a stressed-out one.
Organisations should proactively prioritise mental wellbeing and support for employees to comply with legal duties while improving staff morale and productivity.
Some examples of steps organisations can take are:
- Find out what employees want and need. You can collect this information via employee surveys and polls or open forums and conversations. Questions in the survey could range from “Do you feel supported by your immediate supervisor?” to “What resources do you wish were available?”.
- Signpost the resources available. This could be with posters in the office, via the intranet or internal emails, and ensuring that the induction process covers wellbeing initiatives.
- Ensure any Employee Assistance Programme details are readily available and confirm the nature of that assistance. For example, this might be support or counselling because of financial worries. With the festive season approaching and the ongoing cost of living crisis, many employees’ mental health may be affected by financial concerns.
- Have trained mental health first aiders. Their purpose is to ensure staff know who to go to if they need or want to talk, to signpost people to resources and to be the first port of call for someone who doesn’t know where to start if they are feeling overwhelmed.
- Develop clear policies – such as a Stress at Work or Employee Wellbeing policy – and publicise these. Make sure they are easily accessible and provide training on them.
- Look out for signs of poor mental health at work, such as increased sickness absence, being late to work or poor working relationships with colleagues. These signs can be more challenging to spot when employees are working from home, so it is important to encourage frequent conversations between employees and their managers. With remote working becoming more prevalent, offering virtual mental health resources or online community spaces can be beneficial.
- Finally, organisations should also think about how they can measure the effectiveness of their policies and initiatives. KPIs could include reduced absenteeism, higher employee engagement scores, or positive feedback on internal surveys. If the level of take-up of services offered is low, consider how to improve this.
By following these tips, businesses can prioritise mental wellbeing and help foster a more productive and harmonious work environment.