Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 13-19 May 2019 (this week) and has provided employers with a timely reminder to maintain good principles of managing mental health in the workplace.

Mental health remains one of the biggest reasons for sickness absence and according to the Mental Health Foundation, at least 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem each year, whilst 1 in 5  will take a day off work due to stress.

70 million days a year are lost to mental health illness in the form of stress, anxiety, PTSD, OCD and depression.

Stress can be caused by a reaction to issues in the workplace such as excessive pressures or demands placed on people at any given time.

Employers are reminded that The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 imposes a general duty on employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees. Employers also  have a common law duty to take reasonable care of their employees and to provide them with a safe place of work and a safe system of working.

What are the HSE Management Standards?

The Health & Safety Executive’s Management Standards represent a set of conditions that, if present:

  • demonstrate good practice through a step-by-step risk assessment approach
  • allow assessment of the current situation using pre-existing data, surveys and other techniques
  • promote active discussion and working in partnership with employees and their representatives, to help decide on practical improvements that can be made
  • help simplify risk assessment for work-related stress by:
    – identifying the main risk factors
    – helping employers focus on the underlying causes and their prevention
    – providing a yardstick by which organisations can gauge their performance in tackling the key causes of stress

They cover six key areas of work design that, if not properly managed, are associated with poor health, lower productivity and increased accident and sickness absence rates. The Management Standards are:

  • Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment
  • Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work
  • Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
  • Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour
  • Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles
  • Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation

Identifying potential mental health issues

There are a number of changes to behaviour that may signal something is wrong and in many cases these can be misinterpreted as a bad atitutude to work but more underlying problems may exist. Typical examples include:

  • Mood swings, uncharacteristic and erratic behaviour
  • Anger or aggression
  • Low employee engagement
  • Poor motivation
  • Poor productivity
  • Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn
  • Struggling to make decisions
  • Changes to eating, drinking and smoking habits
  • Risk taking
  • Increased absence
  • High staff turnover

Support for employees

Employers can support employees in a number of ways by providing:

Training for  managers – Organise training sessions for your management team including line managers/supervisors to know how to recognise staff with potential mental health issues, support them and manage them accordingly.

Meetings – Regular catch up meetings provide staff with a chance to talk to their managers about any concerns they have about their workload, workplace and conditions. It also provides managers with the opportunity to spot early warning signs of employees struggling to cope and experiencing anxiety issues.

Encourage employees to talk – Encourage your staff to discuss their worries/concerns with management. You could host well-being events, provide free counseling and allocate some space for quiet zones where staff can relax and talk to managers or other employees about their issues.

Changes to how people perform their role – Look at offering employees flexible working conditions/hours, breaks, working from home. Agreement to give an employee leave at short notice and time off for appointments related to their mental health, such as therapy and counselling. Provision of quiet rooms to relax in break times.

Changes to the role itself (temporary or permanent) – Reallocation of some tasks or changes to people’s job description and duties, a redeployment to a more suitable role, training and support to apply for vacancies and secondments in other departments.

Extra support – Increased supervision or support from manager. For example, some people can take on too much so may need their manager to monitor their workload to prevent this and ensure they’re working sensible hours. Extra training, coaching or mentoring and additional help with managing and negotiating workload. More positive and constructive feedback, debriefing sessions on tasks.