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Supporting an Employee Struggling With Their Mental Health

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Employers have a general duty of care and responsibility for employees’ physical and mental health and to prevent personal injury in the workplace. If an employer is aware of particular health or disability issues relating to an employee, they may have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010. 

According to leading mental health charity, MIND, 1 in 6 workers are dealing with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or stress.  An employee who is not receiving the right support will not be able to perform their best. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development conducted an Employee Outlook Survey (2016), which shows:-

  • 37% of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues;
  • 80% find it difficult to concentrate;
  • 62% take longer to do tasks; and
  • 50% are potentially less patient with customers/clients.

Earlier this year, ACAS published new guidance and resources to help employers deal with employees struggling with mental health problems.  

What can an employer do to support staff coping with mental illness?

1.     Look out for your staff

Getting to know your employees well will help you spot any changes in behaviour suggesting an employee may be struggling with their mental health.  Everyone deals with mental health differently so there may not be an obvious sign.  Creating a good relationship with your employees is crucial to promote openness and trust. MIND have suggested that some clues to look out for include:

  • Changes in behaviour or mood;
  • Changes in work output, motivation or focus levels;
  • Tiredness, anxiousness or becoming withdrawn from usual activities. 

2.     Be mindful

Choosing an appropriate time and place to bring up an employee’s emotional wellbeing is important as it can be the difference between them opening up or deciding not to tell you how they are feeling.   Encourage your staff to talk to you and each other if they are feeling low or even just need an extra bit of support. Sometimes, an external counselling service or helpline allows an employee to raise issues in a more anonymous way, which can also be helpful in encouraging them to seek help. Because different individuals may respond to different approaches, consider offering more than one way of raising a problem.

3.     Offer support and assistance

Be open to discussing any changes that you can make in the workplace to help support your staff.  This can include a few days’ paid leave to clear their mind, offering temporary flexible working to suit their situation or even offering your own time to help them with any tasks they are struggling with.  Being prepared with details of wellbeing or counselling services will really help employees feel like you have taken the time to help them.  If the employee raises a work related issue, as their employer you have the opportunity and responsibility to help them.  For example, you could offer the employee some training on how to handle stress or work with them on time-management strategies.

4.     Follow up on your conversations

Schedule a one-to-one meeting, or even stop by their workplace and simply ask them how they are doing.  This will show that you are acknowledging how they feel and help to build a stronger relationship.

5.     Consider seeking expert advice

Sending staff members, particularly those involved in the Human Resources Department, on awareness training could be crucial in helping spot early signs of employees who are struggling with their mental health and supporting those who have asked for help. It can give HR colleagues confidence to approach what is often a difficult and sensitive subject and feel reassured that they have the appropriate “toolkit” to provide support.

Tackling the stigma behind mental health is a growing social issue and it is something that employers are able to make a real difference with.  Supporting employees dealing with issues surrounding their mental health can have an array of positive impacts to both the business and other individuals within the business.  Find out more on our blog, Promoting Positive Mental Health at Work: For the Benefit of All.

If you need advice on how to ensure you are meeting your legal obligations to your employees surrounding their mental health contact a member of our Employment Team.