A Guide to Mental Health Care in the Workplace – Part One

We all have mental health. Most of us tend to have good mental health, meaning that we can easily deal with normal day to day stresses. But every year, one in four of us experience poor mental health, usually during times of added pressures in our lives, irrespective of age or background. Some sufferers of poor mental health may also have conditions like depression, phobias, anxieties, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), or eating disorders, to name but a few. The list of mental health problems, both common and more severe conditions, is surprisingly long.

Sadly, because stigma still surrounds poor mental health, many people try hard to hide their problems. Or, worse still, are in denial about them, which only makes things worse in the long term. So as an employer, it’s important that your people managers are trained to recognise how to spot the signs. You’re not expected to diagnose or treat those employees – far from it. But having the training to know how to recognise the signs and approach them means you can open up the conversation, allow them to talk, put in place suitable adjustments, and signpost them to the right places for help.

Given the right treatment and support, many people can effectively manage their mental health condition alongside the demands of their work and daily lives. Conversely, if they are not well supported, poor mental health can seriously limit a person’s ability to cope with their daily lives, which can also impact on their relationships at work and home.

CIPD Guide for Mental Health at Work 2018

In 2018, the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) found that poor mental health was the most common cause of long-term sickness absence in the UK. Partnering with Mind, the mental health charity, the two organisations developed the latest guide for managers to use at work to help overcome poor mental health. This latest version covers the whole lifecycle of employment, from recruitment, through awareness and managing mental health in the workplace, to supporting people returning to work after a period of ill health.

Poor mental health can come about through stresses both at work and outside. For instance, an employee may have financial problems that triggers anxieties, which in turn impacts on their work. Additional pressures at work can then compound that problem, then performance drops, and a negative feedback loop is created. That’s why it is as much in your interests as an employer to look after your staff as it is for the individual to feel supported.

The crucial thing to remember is that everyone’s experience of poor mental health is different – two people with the same condition may have entirely different symptoms and coping mechanisms.

The CIPD’s 2016 Employee Outlook: Focus on mental health at work survey found 54% of people reporting poor mental health said that this was due to a combination of work and non-work issues…

As an employer, you also have duties under health and safety legislation to assess the risk of stress related poor mental health arising from work activities, and to take measures to control that risk. The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Management Standards are designed to facilitate this, so do look into that or ask us for further information.

The HSE defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed upon them’. Of course, a certain level of pressure in a business environment is desirable. Pressure can help to motivate people and may boost their energy and productivity levels, but when the pressure individuals are under exceeds their ability to cope – and particularly when there is no respite – it can become a negative rather than a positive force; in other words, unmanageable stress.

More detailed information on the signs and symptoms of stress and how to manage it can be found at the CIPD Guide for Mental Health at Work.

The Equality Act 2010

Poor mental health can often be a ‘hidden’ disability, so it is good practice for you as an employer to make adjustments as soon as you are aware of a staff member experiencing poor mental health. The Equality Act’s definition of a disability refers to ‘long-term’, meaning 12 months or more. But because many mental health conditions can fluctuate, the law doesn’t adequately protect some people who may still need appropriate support and adjustments at work.

The Recruitment Process

Selecting the right recruit for the role based on competence, potential and good performance is obvious, and when that’s done right it also helps to prevent stress and promote resilience in the individual. When someone discloses poor mental health, it is not an indicator of poor performance. So be careful not to discriminate consciously or unconsciously based on unjustified assumptions. If someone experiences discrimination, they may have a legal right to challenge it under The Equality Act 2010.

In the new CIPD people managers’ guide to mental health at work are guidelines to help organisations improve their recruitment processes, including:

  • ensure that your organisation’s commitment to equal opportunities is clearly communicated in the job advert
  • state that you are committed to promoting and protecting the physical and mental health and wellbeing of all staff
  • clearly state that all reasonable adjustments are available to help applicants understand why disclosure might be beneficial
  • ensure that any disclosures will be dealt with separately from the job application and kept completely confidential

Some organisations find health questionnaires helpful, such as pre-employment. Other employers prefer to deal with issues as and when they arise, using tools to encourage disclosure. If your organisation does use health questionnaires, check the link above to the CIPD Guide; on pages 13-16 you’ll find advice and a template with suggested questions, and advice on not asking intrusive or inappropriate questions. From those answers, you may then glean helpful information from your new recruit on conditions they may have, helping you to make suitable adjustments so that they can settle into their new role with confidence.

Next month’s blog will look at keeping employees with mental health problems safe and able to cope with manageable levels of stress, helping them to develop resilience and ultimately stay well. We previously wrote about how to manage stress in the workplace, so do check that blog out too.

Meanwhile, Quadriga’s team of experts are here to help with any queries you may have. For more information, please contact us on 0118 929 9920 or click here to email us.

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