What role does HR play in workplace mental health?

Mental ill health is likely to affect as many as one in four people at some point in their lives.

Mental illness affects families, relationships, can harm careers and have a significant impact on employee wellbeing.

Mental illness is a major cause of long-term sickness absence from work, a huge contributor to presenteeism, and a massive financial cost to UK businesses.

All employers should promote and protect good mental health for everyone- and provide support for employees who are experiencing common mental ill health disorders, including anxiety and depression.

Discrimination against people who experience mental health issues remains a real problem in workplaces, even though a high percentage of the workforce will face poor mental health at some point during their working life.

In Great Britain, disability discrimination provisions in the Equality Act 2010 covers many mental health conditions, which can legally be classed as a disability. There are a range of mental health disorders that might qualify a person for protection under the Act, providing there is a long-term and substantial effect (for at least a year) on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day tasks. Mental impairments do not necessarily need to be clinically well-recognised to qualify as a disability.

If an employee has a disability, their organisation has a duty to support them appropriately - to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate their needs – and this includes those with mental health conditions.

It is important to know that even if someone’s mental health condition has not been classed as a disability within the definition of the Act, it’s still good practice for an employer to offer support and to make appropriate changes to their work or working pattern to support them to thrive at work.

Employers should promote and protect good mental health as well as providing support if an issue emerges. Employers should take key steps to better support employees and demonstrate their commitment to promoting positive mental health.

The culture within an organisation, and the extent of awareness and training around mental health, will affect whether employees and their managers have open and supportive conversations.

We have seen, and continue to see, rising levels of mental ill-health – a trend that, according to some reports including the longitudinal study led by the Mental Health Foundation, looking at the mental health impact of the pandemic; is likely to be long lasting, especially among younger and more disadvantaged groups.

It isn’t all bad news though - we have also seen some positive progress in the way mental health has been prioritised across society. More business leaders than ever are committed to protecting and promoting the health of their employees.

The last two years have also showed us that change can be achieved and achieved quickly. Changes to job design, such as the move to home and hybrid working, have created opportunities for a more flexible future working model. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity in our hands to transform traditional working practices, and to create workplace cultures that support people to thrive and achieve all that they are capable of

Some reports suggest that more than 40% of employees have experienced symptoms of mental ill health symptoms caused, or made worse, by work in the last year.

If this were related to physical injury – if such a high percentage of employees were sustaining physical injuries at work, would we accept this as normal? Of course not. So why do we accept that when people are made unwell by their work or their workplace?

Most experiences of mental ill health are caused by a combination of work-related and non-work-related issues

So - work is part of the problem; GOOD work must be part of the solution. HR are part of the solution.

How can HR teams help to contribute to a psychologically safe and health workplace?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Support people leaders to manage their teams
  • Challenge stigma
  • Undertake specific mental health awareness training
  • Learn to spot the signs of mental ill health
  • Understand the barriers that might exist to people asking for help
  • Develop awareness around intersectionality
  • Signpost to professional help and support
  • Review job design and workloads
  • Take a mental health lens to HR Processes
  • Promote awareness of mental health issues across the workforce
  • Promote work-life balance
  • Offer flexible working
  • Address the risk of suicide

These are just a few ideas of how HR teams can help to contribute to a psychologically safe and health workplace.

Contact our team HERE to find out more about our bespoke mental health training programs for HR teams.

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