Mental Health | January 30, 2018

Mental Health – what businesses really need to be doing (and it won’t be easy)

The statistics are everywhere and it seems everyone is talking about mental health, which is great news. However, it will not be easy for employers to tackle the challenges – simply writing a policy which will be hidden somewhere on the intranet, unread, is unlikely to be enough.

The new ACAS guidance on mental health has placed a raft of new training, awareness and documentation responsibilities on employers to:

  • Improve mental health in the workplace;
  • Tackle the causes of mental ill health;
  • Create a workplace culture where staff feel able to talk about their mental health; and
  • Support staff that are experiencing mental ill health.

This places a massive responsibility on employers in an area that society as a whole is struggling to deal with. ACAS guidance is important and influential, and is often considered by Employment Tribunals and courts when deciding whether an employer has met the standards required of a reasonable employer.

The guidance recommends that employers:

  • Develop an action plan to change attitudes;
  • Create a mental health policy to set out its values;
  • Train managers and ensure they champion awareness and fight stigma;
  • Tackle work related causes of mental health; and
  • Educate the workforce.

It would appear almost impossible to do this without an understanding of this complex and sensitive area, which is why informed training is so important.

Employees who are suffering from mental health issues will not always come to their employer with their problem neatly labelled; indeed they might not even know that they are suffering from a mental health condition or what they are suffering from. The line between stress and a clinical mental health condition can be difficult to establish. For the purposes of ensuring a happy, healthy and productive workforce, it is crucial for employers to understand the difference between “normal” stress that everyone goes through and lives with, and damaging stress that can lead to more serious and long-lasting conditions.

Why train managers and educate the workforce?

By training management on identifying issues an employer can help to signpost employees to the appropriate support, give them a helping hand and make adjustments where necessary to help to manage the problem. Depending on the condition, it may be that with the right support at an early stage escalation can be prevented.

Management should look out for changes in behaviour – employees who are distracted, complaints of lack of sleep and tiredness, out of character behaviours such as aggression and low morale, indecisiveness in a person who is usually decisive, issues with memory and mind going blank can all (amongst many others) be symptoms of anxiety and/ or depression. There are also physical symptoms of which management should be aware and physical first aiders should link up with those responsible for mental health.

Being able to identify and manage such issues will benefit the business in a number of ways. As well as the long-term benefits of having a mentally healthy workforce it would be better to know when an employee is going through a difficult time so that this can be managed and support can be put in place, avoiding mistakes, missed deadlines, poor communication to customers, etc. Employers need to carefully consider what policies will work best to achieve this.  It may be that an employee would rather go to a trained company Mental Health Champion to speak about their condition. With consent the Mental Health Champion may then speak to the employee’s direct line manager – employees can then be reassured that management know about their condition, without the stress of having that difficult conversation.

Policies and procedures

The strategy for how to deal with mental health issues needs to be given careful consideration and will depend on the composition and particular demands of the workforce – it is not a simple administrative task. Engagement with employees and management will be particularly helpful, including through use of employee questionnaires so that employers can establish the extent that mental health issues affect their workforce.

Any action plan and policy should have real practical impact. Essentially employers want to ensure employees are supported and provide a communication line when they are experiencing issues as well as generally having a strategy in place to encourage good mental health.

Many employers will already have some tools in place and should consider how to make more of these. For example, find out more about the services offered by any Employee Assistance Programme and advertise the mental health services that are available through any private healthcare provider.

How we can help?

Wedlake Bell offer an innovative training, education and engagement package with separate elements tailored to HR, staff and managers, and provide the documents recommended in the ACAS guidance.

Our training and documentation is provided by employment law specialists who are experienced in dealing with disability, absence management and performance issues and are also certified in Mental Health First Aid.

You can contact us at or on 020 3697 7201 to request further information.