depressionWhy should employers be concerned about mental health?

At any one time, one in six British workers will be affected by a mental health condition or problems relating to stress. Work-related stress is the biggest occupational health problem in the UK after musculoskeletal disorders.

Work-related stress:

  • accounts for 40 per cent of all days lost through sickness absence.
  • is responsible for 70 million lost working days a year, including one in seven directly caused by a person’s work or working conditions.
  • costs £2.4 billion a year in replacing staff who leave their jobs because of mental health problems.
  • reduces productivity costing businesses £15.1 billion a year.

What are employers’ obligations and what are employees’ rights?

Employers need to be aware of disability discrimination laws. A new Equality Act came into force in October 2010. (Editor’s Note: this law only applies to the United Kingdom; there is no such equivalent law in the U.S.) Under this Act, a mental health condition is considered a disability if it has a long-term effect on normal day-to-day activity.

The Equality Act applies to all employers in the UK, including contract workers. The most important things to note are:

  • An employer must not treat a disabled person less favourably than another employee because of disability
  • Employers must make reasonable adjustments to work places, and provide other aids and adaptations, for disabled employees
  • The law covers an employee during recruitment, employment and if you are being dismissed for any reason, including redundancy
  • Employers cannot use pre-employment questionnaires to ask about a candidate’s health before they are offered a job.

Are there specific issues in the workplace that affect mental health?

When people feel under pressure at work it can lead to stress and anxiety. A short period of stress on its own is not likely to be considered a disability under law, but prolonged stress is more serious and can make existing mental health problems worse. It is in the best interests of employers and employees to avoid this situation, and create mentally healthy workplaces that are free from discrimination and where wellbeing is a priority.

What can businesses do to support mental health?

  • Ensure a proactive approach to identify root causes, increasing understanding of causes of mental health problems among the workforce
  • Take action to combat workplace stressors and helping staff to manage stress
  • Adopt a responsive approach to identify those with issues and provide support to manage health problems effectively through early recognition and appropriate management (including early access to counselling or providing advice on sources of help)
  • Ensure a rehabilitative approach to care for those recovering, taking action to manage return to work of those who have suffered mental health problems to ensure their skills are not lost to the organization.

Mental health issues do not need to stop individuals from working. With the right support and the right job, people with mental health problems can perform vital roles in workplaces across the UK.