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Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace

Mental health illness is the largest single cause of disability in the UK and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made a huge impact on this. We have spent so much of the last fourteen months focusing on physical health that the importance of mental health can be forgotten.

What is mental health?

There is still a lack of understanding about mental health. This stigma creates a fear of being judged and discourages people from talking about their state of mind. It’s perfectly normal to feel down, worried or overwhelmed, especially when things are difficult. These feelings usually pass quite quickly. However, sometimes they can develop into more serious problems and begin to affect our day to day lives. Mental health affects how we think, feel, and behave. It also determines how we handle stress, relate to other people, and make decisions.  It can also be hard to distinguish when stress (which is not considered a medical condition) turns into a mental health problem. A mental health issue can appear in two ways. It can happen as a reaction to an event or it can slowly build up over time.

Mental Health in the Workplace

In the place of work

Mental health, wellbeing and illness are critical components of overall worker health and wellbeing. Workplaces should be prioritising protecting employee’s mental health and safety on an equal level as their physical safety. Good mental health at work and good management go hand in hand. A workforce with high levels of mental well-being are more productive and take far fewer sick days so it makes sense to put this high on the agenda. It is important to identify what areas of the workplace might be the cause of mental ill-health. Gathering information on staff turnover, sickness absence and performance can be a good place to start. Any signs of a problem in an employee should be addressed immediately, not only for the business but for the health of the employee. Signs of a possible mental health issue include:
  • A drop in the level of a normal appearance
  • Erratic behaviour and mood swings
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Irritability and frustrations
  • A decrease in productivity
  • Regular sickness absence
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Social withdrawal

Remote working

The pandemic saw many businesses sending employees to work from home. Although the situation is now easing, the way we work has changed, possibly for good. Many of the nation’s working population will be continuing to work remotely at least part of the time. This may be by choice or by the fact that it is good for the business. Trying to identify remote workers who may be struggling with their mental health raises different problems. Visual clues and behavioural changes cannot be picked up as they can be in the physical workspace where you spend more time together. Employees may also find it more difficult to disclose problems in this situation, with the option of knocking on a door or a less formal chat with a manager or colleague not available. To reduce the risk to remote workers, communication is key to boost engagement. This could be in the form of one-to-one calls or a team call if there is a group of remote workers on a project. It is important to keep this regular so that employees can raise their concerns and questions. During these calls, allow for non-work related social chat as this would normally happen in the workplace.

Employer Mental Health

Leading by example, business owners and managers must remember to take care of their own mental wellbeing. If they are having issues then this will obviously affect the whole workforce damaging the core of the business.

Nature and mental health illness

Nature is the theme for 2021’s Mental Health Awareness Week. During the pandemic, nature has been vital for mental health and millions of us have used open spaces and going for walks as a way of coping. According to the Mental Health Foundation, websites which showed footage from wildlife webcams saw hits increase by over 2000%. Wider studies also found that during lockdowns, people not only spent more time in nature but were noticing it more. Encourage your staff, both those attending work and those working remotely, to get outside and have breaks in the fresh air. Perhaps get together and go for a walk in the lunch break if possible, or maybe get together outside work hours for a hike or a bike ride.

How Kidwells Solicitors Can Help

Kidwells Solicitors is experienced not only in law, but in business and HR. Our combination of business acumen and legal expertise will help build a solid foundation for a better workplace. We can help you as a business to support your employees and your business with policies, Health & Safety, contracts, and other aspects of employment and HR that help foster healthy company culture and efficient processes. All while remaining legally sound to protect both employer and employee. If as an employee you are being treated unfairly at work and need legal advice, we can help. For all employment law and HR advice and needs, contact our office at 01432 278 179 and ask for Kate Wargen, Head of Client Employment & HR. You can also use the web chat or email us.

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