Employers: here’s how to create a culture that empowers employees to talk about mental health4 min read

Over the last ten years, organisations have come a long way in changing their perceptions of mental health. Whilst there is still stigma attached to mental health, there has been a very positive shift towards organisations wanting to help their employees to maintain their mental health and overall wellbeing.

And with good reason; according to statistics from the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 6 people experience mental health problems in the workplace (14.7%), women in full-time employment are nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem as full-time employed men (19.8% vs 10.9%) and 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions.

Not only that, a recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development study highlighted the impact mental ill health can have on organisations. The study found that:

  • 37% of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues
  • 57% find it harder to juggle multiple tasks
  • 80% find it difficult to concentrate
  • 62% take longer to do tasks
  • 50% are potentially less patient with customers/clients.

It also identified that stress is the major cause of long-term absence in manual and non-manual workers. With these stats in mind it makes sense for organisations to invest in their employees mental health and well being – as it’s clear mental health plays a big part in our productivity!

Every single one of us has mental health, sometimes it’s great and other times it won’t be. So, what do you do when you’re struggling with your mental health and you’re employed?

What the law says…

This is very important. If you feel that you are being treated unfairly because of your mental health issue(s) then knowing your rights and asking for what you need from your employer is crucial.

The Equality Act 2010 is a piece of legislation that protects you from discrimination. There are 9 strands within the Equality Act and these include gender, age and disability.

A mental health issue is considered a disability if you can demonstrate that it has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

Under the Equality Act, organisations have a responsibility to make ‘reasonable’ adjustments to allow you to carry out your work. This could include changing your working practices or providing aids and adaptations to help you stay in work.

If you’re not well, but want to and can work then you have the right to ask for assistance from your employer providing you can demonstrate that the condition is having a long-term and substantial effect on your life. A GP note is usually more than enough to show the ill effects mental health can have on your everyday life and wellbeing.

How workplaces can support their employees’ mental health

It’s in the best interests of an organisation to have resources in place to help and support their employees, irrespective of whether someone has a mental health issue – because, life happens.

Larger organisations tend to have more resources on offer to look after their employees wellbeing, however, smaller organisations are getting better at providing resources to their employees too!

Resources can include: providing free counselling services for their employees, a wellbeing policy, agile working and practices (seriously, it’s 2018 and if your organisation isn’t flexible it isn’t surviving past 2020!), breakout areas to relax in, wellbeing days, a mental health first aider (this is a colleague trained to spot and support those in the workplace who are struggling with their mental health).

At the very least, it is good practice for a workplace to have an intranet page which identifies charities and resources that are available to help people manage their mental health.

Workplaces should also endeavour to create a culture that is transparent, to enable open and honest conversations between employees and their managers around their overall wellbeing and mental health.

A simple “how are you?” is powerful and can open a dialogue between employee and manager which results in an employee feeling supported and could potentially avoid them from being absent in the workplace.

Looking after ourselves at work

Lastly, self care is imperative in maintaining your mental health and overall wellbeing. An organisation can and should do their best to ensure their employees are well – but you also have a responsibility to do the same.

Self-care will look different to everyone; but some of the common things you can do include exercising, actually taking your lunch break, going for a walk, connecting with colleagues/friends and family and purposefully learning new skills.

Not everyone has forward-thinking employers, however. If you work for an organisation which still lags behind in terms of mental health provision, remember: you do have legal rights in the workplace around mental health.

At the very least, reminding your employer of this could be the prompt they need to get into the 21st century.

Hopefully you work for an organisation that understands the benefits of supporting their employees, but, if you don’t, hopefully this article helps you to open a dialogue with your employer and at the very least you’ve learnt what your rights are in the workplace.


Mind – Five Ways to Wellbeing

How to support mental health at work

Time to Change – Tackling mental health stigma in the workplace

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