HR professionals play a pivotal role in keeping the workforce happy, productive and resilient. With a recent surge in mental health cases and long waiting times from the NHS, it’s vital that HR professionals and managers step in to provide the necessary support.
From a legal perspective, your duty of care to employees remains the same throughout the pandemic and thereafter. No matter the circumstances, you must always provide a duty of care to do everything reasonably possible to support the health, safety and wellbeing of your employees.
In this article, we take a look at the importance of supporting positive mental health in the workplace within HR, and how HR leaders and managers can ensure they are complying within the workplace.
Rises in Mental Health Cases
Much has been written on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of adults and children worldwide.
According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2020, around 19% of adults reported experiencing some form of depression. In the early months of 2021, this figure rose to 21%, with young adults experiencing struggles with mental health more than any other age group.
This surge in cases has led to a mental health pandemic of depression, anxiety and chronic stress. It has also been estimated that absence due to mental health costs the UK economy around £34.9 billion per year, according to People Management.
Most causes of these cases include financial trouble, isolation, relationship problems, experiencing discrimination and stigma, and the fear of job loss (which has, of course, heightened throughout the pandemic). This has also meant that more of us are experiencing more mental health issues at work than ever before.
Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have a legal responsibility and a duty of care towards all employees, including those with mental health issues.
Employers must do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing.
As an HR professional, there are steps you can take to ensure mental health initiatives are implemented and upheld by your business with mental health as a clear priority. These steps may include aligning policies and practices, equipping managers with the skills to initiate conversations with employees, and creating a wellbeing strategy to ensure mental health support is not left behind.
Ways to Promote Positive Mental Health in the Workplace
It’s useful to think about workplace mental health and wellbeing in two different ways – prevention and crisis support.
A proactive mental health strategy plays a critical role in PREVENTING mental health challenges before they occur. Providing employees with the tools to manage their wellbeing is a sustainable way to provide support for your employees.
An important way of promoting positive mental health is to make reasonable adjustments to support employees in the workplace. This includes refraining from discriminating against an employee who struggles with their mental health problems, particularly if it affects their day-to-day activities.
Having a psychologically safe workplace is more important now than ever. Employees in workplaces that allow us to feel psychologically safe are able to speak up and admit to mistakes. They are also found to be more productive, engaged and are generally much healthier. To enable a psychologically safe workplace, you may wish to read the Five Tenets of Psychological Safety that I explained in a recent article, How to Support Mental Health in the
Employees suffering from mental health struggles are typically unlikely to speak up until these issues escalate. For this reason, you may wish to appoint a mental health first aider who can arrange periodic risk assessments to evaluate potential risks and hazards in the workplace and inform management and leaders of these risks with steps taken to protect employees.
A documented health and safety policy is a legal requirement if you employ five or more people. You can introduce a mental health section to this policy, including the ways you intend to reinforce a safe and healthy work environment by removing as many workplace stressors as possible.
When mental health issues are identified, it’s vital to adapt work to the individual, particularly with respect to the design of workplaces. Be flexible with employees and allow suitable workplace adjustments, for example:
- Reducing working hours
- Allowing the choice to work from home or office (or introducing a hybrid working pattern if they would like a combination)
- Introducing break-out spaces in the workplace
- Providing support with workload
- Eliminating stress factors (where possible)
- Offering coaching and mentoring
For employees, it’s important to seek personal and professional help to learn lifelong coping mechanisms. A question often posed when it comes to mental health and wellbeing is – should I get a mentor, a coach or a counsellor? I would strongly advise reading my guide, The Difference between Coaching vs Mentoring vs Counselling, to understand the fundamental differences and decide on the most appropriate course of action.
Alongside a strong preventative framework, it is important to have support in place for those in need of crisis support, for more serious issues such as suicide, serious mental health conditions, and bereavement.
If an employee reaches crisis point, think about:
- How you would treat time off needed – bereavement leave, compassionate leave, sick leave for mental health conditions.
- How skilled are your managers to make clear decisions of how to redistribute/manage workload, and how to stay in contact sensitively. A short training and/or 1:1 session is generally enough to cover the main aspects.
- Where can you access external support – prepare a list of external support options – these might include bereavement coaching, EAP counselling, or professional support via a private medical insurance provider
- How do you know it’s safe for an employee to be at work – depending on the nature of the issue, a risk assessment may also be advisable to provide professional guidance
Supporting Positive Mental Health Within HR
As an HR professional, there are steps you can take to ensure mental health initiatives are implemented and upheld by the business.
To find out more about psychological safety in the workplace, you can listen to an interview I did on the topic here Unpacking Psychological Safety webinar on YouTube.
With a wealth of training and experience with wellbeing and mental health, I can create a unique HR strategy that works for your business and industry, puts your employees first and prevents physical and mental issues before they occur.