As the stigma around mental health begins to break in the mainstream media, one employment lawyer in Hampshire is urging businesses to tackle the previously ‘taboo’ subject.
Around one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, according to official figures.
Simon Rhodes, partner and head of employment at law firm Trethowans, says that while workplaces are switching on to the issue, there is more they can do to help those affected. He adds that getting it right can provide positive benefits for staff engagement and employee happiness. They bring with them a positive knock-on effect on business performance.
He said: “Mental health at work is an issue that has largely been ‘swept under the rug’. Difficult to detect and even more difficult to manage, mental illnesses are rarely supported quite as well as more visible physical conditions. Recently, society is becoming more aware and accepting of mental illness. As a result, the impact that mental illnesses can have on our performance at work is being more widely discussed and understood.”
Rhodes said that poor mental health could result in a reduction in both the quality of work and work volumes, through absences from work and presenteeism (which is working whilst not fully engaged).
The 2017 Stevenson/Farmer review called “Thriving at Work” estimates that mental illnesses cost employers within the UK between £33 billion and £42 billion a year. It estimated that over half of this huge cost to businesses was due to presenteeism, with the remainder made up from absenteeism and the cost of staff turnover. A potential solution has come out of this review, which is a “common sense” package of standards which they believe any employer could implement through a “mental health at work” plan.
Rhodes said: “By promoting good mental health and support for those who might need help, employers can achieve a win-win position. The Stevenson/Farmer report encouraged open conversations about mental health at work and encouraged schemes that support employees who are struggling at work. By providing timely and meaningful support, employers can improve the lives of their employees and the profitability of their businesses.”
Mind, the mental health charity, has stated that if an employee’s mental wellbeing is well cared for, then “staff moral and loyalty, innovation, productivity and profits will rise”. This is backed up by statistics from the Mental Health Foundation, which has carried out economic modelling showing for a company of 500 employees, a total investment of £20,676 in mental healthcare initiatives will result in a net profit of approximately £83,278 over a two year period.
He added that employers needed to ensure they were looking after employees with mental health issues in the right way because of the moral, economic and legal benefits.
An employee suffering from mental health issues may be disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. In that case reasonable workplace adjustments will need to be made for those who need them. Those employees will also be protected from discrimination.
Rhodes added: “Workplace policies such as equal opportunities, discrimination and disciplinary all need to cater for mental health issues. Support schemes like Employee Assistance Programmes and Occupational Health referrals should be put in place wherever possible too.
“Employers need to be alive to the reality that some of your staff may be suffering in silence. The success of your businesses may in turn be suffering as a direct result. Exercising good practice in the workplace can prevent problems, such as high rates of absenteeism, presenteeism, low morale and high staff turnover, from arising.”
• The Business Magazine and Cardinal Corporate, part of Cardinal Clinic, Berkshire's only private mental health clinic, are holding a special roundtable discussions: Attitudes to Mental Health in the Workplace - on Friday, June 1.
If you would like to attend, email Linda Morse at [email protected] for details.