Each year, individuals and businesses across the UK dedicate one week to mental health awareness. This year, it is suitably arranged in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and national lockdown, where many of us might be suffering from the consequences of social distancing, fear of mass unemployment and economic uncertainties. It is evidently not only our physical health that is being affected by the situation, but also our mental health.
As an employer, it is important, perhaps more than ever, to understand what you can and even must do to ensure the mental wellbeing of your employees.
Mental Health and Employment Law
Even though you are expected to do more from a corporate citizen standpoint, employers should be aware of what they are legally required to do in terms of employee health, safety and wellbeing – which also extends to mental health.
Employers have a ‘duty of care’ towards their employees, meaning they must take reasonable steps to support their health and safety. It includes providing a safe workplace, protect employees from discrimination, and carrying out risk assessments.
In terms of mental health issues, these can be considered disabilities under UK law – even if the employee does not show symptoms at all times. In the case where an employee’s mental health issue is considered a disability, it is unlawful for employers to discriminate the employee based on this, and the employer must further consider making reasonable adjustments to meet the needs of the employee.
How to Spot Signs of Mental Health Issues
The most common mental health issues are stress, depression and anxiety, though there are, of course, more serious conditions that employees can suffer from. Knowing what the signs are of mental health illness and vulnerability, can assist employers in preventing the condition to deteriorate, but also make sure employee get proper care. Some common signs among employees include:
- Changes in their usual behaviour, mood or interaction with colleagues.
- Changes in their performance – it could be the standard of their work, and/or how they focus on tasks.
- The employee may seem more fatigued, anxious and/or withdrawn.
- A reduction of interest in tasks that the employee previously found enjoyable.
- Changes in appetite, which in turn might display as weight loss or gain.
- An increase in habits like smoking and drinking.
- The employee shows up late to work and/or their absence due to sickness is increased.
Simultaneously, it is important to point out that each individual cope with mental distress differently – some employees may not show obvious signs at all. It is therefore important to consider what measures you can take as an employer to further detect mental health issues.
What Else Can Employers do?
A supportive environment, including open and honest communication between employers and employees, is key in order to detect mental health issues as well as being able to assist in the recovery of such. Employers need to take mental health issue indication seriously and consider its underlying reasons. Thereafter, one can think about solutions. These could include adjusting your management style, the individual’s targets and their workload.
As a manager, it is important to be approachable and ensure your staff know they can raise an issue with you in case they are feeling mentally ill – which shouldn’t be any more dramatic than reporting a physical disease. Since early detection and intervention are key aspects when it comes to treating mental health conditions, it is important to do frequent check-ups with your staff.
Prevention is another vital approach when it comes to mental health wellbeing. Offering workplace benefits such as meditation classes, office massage, yoga or similar, and further complimentary therapy sessions, can be good ways to reduce stress- and anxiety levels and avoid future complications.
Due to mental health issues, your employee might need to take time off for recovery. Here, it becomes important to stay in touch with the employee and continue to support after s/he returns to work. As a precaution before mental illness strikes, it could be worth for employers to check your policies for dealing with absence.
Mental Wellbeing During Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected our society in many ways, with people experiencing significant change in most parts of their lives – both their personal and professional. It is also a time of uncertainties, when both large and small questions arise. What will the world look like after the pandemic? How will the pandemic affect me, my job and income? What about the health of my friends and family? The Mental Health Foundation reports that more than a third of UK adults who are employed full-time, are worried about losing their jobs. Further, nearly one in four of UK adults who are living in lockdown have felt feelings of loneliness. Now, perhaps more than ever, it is therefore important to consider the measures described above. Employees need regular communication in general, though it is even more important in times of crisis.
Change and uncertainty can lead to emotional distress, including stress and anxiety. With remote workforces, employers need to pay extra attention towards lone workers and any potential signs of mental illness. Regular check-ins become extremely important to make sure these individuals don’t feel alienated or isolated.
Another group are remotely working parents, who might suffer from feelings of inadequacy and frustration due to struggles with trying to balance home-schooling children while also performing at work. In these cases, offering flexible working arrangements can help, such as adjusting work hours or allowing time off, or changing performance measures and individual targets. This flexibility as a solution also applies to those who are struggling with motivation and adjusting to the new, remote working patterns.
For additional management advice, please have a look at our past webinar “How to Lead a Remote Team”.