May 25th, 2017 / Insight posted in Blog

Mental Health – A major topic in the upcoming election, but what are you doing about it?

All political parties in the upcoming election are discussing mental health and their plans to address the key issues. As a topic, it’s been a common theme in many news stories in recent months, even before the election race began.

Recent research from Legal & General found that less than 10% of employees feel comfortable discussing a mental health condition with their manager, which is cause for concern when the charity, Mind, estimates that 1 in 4 employees will experience a mental health problem in the next 12 months, with stress being the number one cause for workplace absence.

Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, recently suggested that the Conservatives would amend the Equality Act 2010, removing the requirement that, to qualify for employment protection against discrimination on grounds of mental health, an individual must have had the condition for a period of 12 months or more.

Many of you will be concerned with this announcement as it could significantly affect the way you manage employees suffering with mental health issues. Conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression are not presently covered by the Equality Act 2010. However, they appear to fall within the definition of a mental impairment and, if shown to have an impact on the ability to perform day-to-day activities, as they frequently will, can be treated as disabilities for the purpose of the Act. This will mean that no qualifying period of service will be required and employees will be protected from day one of their employment, including employees during probationary periods.

Employee wellbeing is not a new subject and, in February, Punter Southall Health & Protection published their research report, which found that 45% of companies now have a clearly defined wellbeing strategy in place, an increase from the 30% reported in 2016.

To reduce the risk of employees going off sick for mental health related issues or to assist them in returning to work, you could consider the following for your own organisation. Management training in conducting return to work interviews and exit interviews could help managers to identify potential causes for absence. Introducing an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), which offers employees access to third party support services with a proven record of effective specialist mental health support, many of which also include face-to-face counselling sessions if required. An EAP provider we currently work with offers a service proven to get 94.7% of employees back to work within 14 days of intervention, which is an extremely impressive statistic.

It is important that you start proactively managing the mental health of your workforce before they deteriorate to such an extent that it takes longer for them to return to work, meaning more lost time, higher cost and lower productivity for your business. Looking after your employees’ wellbeing could result in a happy, healthy, productive and engaged workforce with lower sickness absence levels, which should be seen as a win-win situation for all parties.