Focus on: Mental health in the workplace

Posted on May 10, 2021
Posted by Frankie Mundy

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual event hosted by the Mental Health Foundation to encourage everyone across the UK to start conversations about mental health. Mind estimates that 1 in 4 people in England will experience mental health issues every year, and it’s important to bear in mind that an employer’s duty of care extends to their staff members’ mental as well as physical wellbeing. 

As part of their own mental health drive, online bank Monzo hit the press today as it was revealed they had introduced paid leave for employees who are affected by pregnancy loss at any stage during their pregnancy. This goes above and beyond what is required by UK employment law, which only provides for statutory bereavement leave and pay for pregnancy loss after 24 weeks. 

This Mental Health Awareness Week, take the time to reflect on what your organisation is doing to support good mental health in the workplace, and consider any additional steps that could be taken. Remember that cultivating a positive attitude to mental health at work can ultimately lead to a more motivated and productive workforce. We’ve set out some considerations below.


Open lines of communication

Encouraging staff to discuss any mental health concerns with their line manager, or another designated individual in your business (e.g. the HR Manager), is a good place to start. If they know that there are designated and discreet lines of communication open to them, struggling staff may feel more able to ask for help where necessary. 

Consider also whether it would be helpful to provide training to relevant staff (e.g. managers) on what to look out for and how to sensitively deal with mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Ensuring that everyone is alive to the issues and understands the correct process to follow will help you to create a work culture where staff feel listened to and where mental health issues are properly identified and managed. 


Promote wellbeing

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme is nature because according to the Mental Health Foundation, nature is an effective way to both protect our wellbeing and tackle mental health issues. In light of this, consider reminding your staff to take regular breaks throughout the day so that they have the opportunity to get outside in nature and to take other self-care steps, such as exercise. 

Remember that your staff must be given at least one uninterrupted rest break during the working day if they work for at least six hours a day. Find out more in our Q&A on the Rules about working hours


Apply your HR policies and procedures 

It’s really important to bear in mind that mental health issues can count as disabilities in some circumstances. A disability can be anything that has a substantial and long-term effect on an individual’s ability to carry out daily activities. Crucially for an employer, if a staff member is disabled, you must ensure they are not discriminated against on the basis of their disability, and you must consider making reasonable adjustments to their working conditions to enable them to continue working for you or to return to work following a period of absence (e.g. sick leave). What steps you need to take will depend on your staff member’s circumstances, but you may need to consider reasonable adjustments such as reduced hours, additional breaks throughout the day or flexible working.

More generally, if your business can accommodate it, taking a flexible approach to staff working arrangements might also be beneficial to their wellbeing and mental health. This is currently a hot topic in the press after an advisory group set up by the Government recommended that flexible working be the default position. Remember that some of your employees will have the legal right to request a flexible working arrangement if they have been working for your business for six months and you have certain legal obligations as to how you respond. Find out more in our Q&A on Flexible working requests

If a staff member calls in sick due to their mental health, it’s important that you follow your usual sick leave policies and procedures. Equally, while they are on sick leave, you should pay them in accordance with your enhanced sick pay policy if you have one or, if not, statutory sick pay (if they are eligible). See our Q&A for further guidance about dealing with sickness absences and sick pay. If you’re looking for a template sickness absence policy for your business, our staff handbook contains a template that you can either generate on its own or as part of a full employee handbook. 

For further tips about how to reduce the risks of work-related stress, depression or anxiety to your staff, see our Q&A on staff mental health.


The content in this article is up to date as at the date of publishing. The information provided is intended only for information purposes, and is not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Sparqa Legal’s Terms of Use apply.