The new ACAS guidance on mental health has placed a raft of new training, awareness and documentation responsibilities on employers, including responsibility for creating a workplace culture where staff feel able to talk about their mental health.
The guidance encourages employers to tackle the stigma associated with mental health. This places a massive responsibility on employers in an area that society as a whole is struggling to deal with.
Lots of people are talking about the issue of mental health in the workplace, but not many people are talking to their employer about their mental health in the workplace. Why?
Employees are often concerned that their mental health issues will be perceived differently from physical health issues. For example, an employee will often believe that they will have more understanding from their employer if they take time off work – even significant amounts of time – for a physical ailment. In contrast, once an employee admits that they have suffered from a mental health condition, they often fear that they will become known for this forever and a day. Will management continually be wondering if they can cope with the stress of a big project? Will it affect their chances of promotion? Perhaps they will even be judged for making public what others think should be a personal and private issue?
We all know that managers do exist who feel that surviving through extremely stressful works situations with punishing hours is a pre-requisite to career progression.
On a mental health first aid course that we attended recently, it was clear that some employees do not even want to speak to their GP about their mental health for a fear that this may remain on their records, how then can you encourage people to speak up at work?
Employees will only disclose their conditions if they are confident that they will be understood, not be unfairly judged and that it will not unfairly prejudice their career.
The strategy for how to deal with mental health issues in the workplace therefore needs to be given careful consideration.
ACAS guidance recommends that employers should:
- 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.
A mental health policy should not simply be an administrative procedure. Any action plan and policy should have a real practical impact. To reduce stigma, employers should consider training and engagement programmes for management and the wider workforce. Policies for encouraging employees to talk about any mental health condition need to be given careful consideration, and it may be helpful to develop these after consultation with the workforce, including, for example, the use of employee questionnaires.
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. Consider what will work best in your workforce.
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 email@example.com or on 020 3697 7201 to request further information.