Employers have a legal duty of care to support health and wellbeing in the workplace. An organisational culture that recognises and addresses mental health with the same importance and urgency as physical health should be at the top of any employer’s priority list.

How big of an issue is mental health?

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem at some point in their life. Anxiety and depression are the most common issues, often in response to difficult life events such as bereavement. However, poor mental health can be brought on or pre-existing conditions aggravated due to problems at work.

Research by mental health charity MIND also confirmed a culture of fear and silence around mental health is costly to employers. Following a survey of employees, it discovered that 21% had called in sick as a way to cope with workplace stress, while 14% had resigned and another 42% had also considered handing in their notice.

The bottom line is that by addressing the mental health needs of your employees, organisations will not only improve general wellbeing but reduce absenteeism, lower staff turnover and increase productivity.

What has been the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Sudden changes in our everyday routines, restrictions on seeing people and worries about the health of family and friends have fuelled a dramatic increase in mental health issues.

According to MIND, more than half of adults and over two-thirds of young people said their wellbeing deteriorated in the early stages of the lockdown in April and May.

Coming out of lockdown didn’t necessarily reverse these fortunes. Every person would have been through a different experience – some may have continued to work from home while others were furloughed, some may even have had a loved one contract the virus. So undoubtedly, while some employees were happy to be returning to the office, the ease of lockdown generated significant anxiety for others.

With restrictions on our daily lives due to continuing for the foreseeable future, the exploration of tailored ways of working for employees struggling to find their footing in this ‘new normal’ will remain vital.

How can my company support mental health in the workplace?

Firstly, employers already have a legal ‘duty of care’ which means they must do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing. This includes making sure the working environment is safe, protecting people from discrimination and carrying out risk assessments.

A mental health issue can also be considered a disability under the law – further protecting an employee from discrimination – if it has a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on the life of the employee, it lasts at least 12 months and it affects their ability to do their normal day-to-day activities, such as keeping to set working times.

Here are some ways you can meet your legal responsibilities and ensure you’re creating the most supportive environment possible.

  1. Remove the stigma

People are often afraid to speak up and seek help because of the long-held stigma associated with mental health, as opposed to physical health. Show the importance your company places on mental health by producing a policy that acknowledges its impact, explains who employees can talk to and what help your organisation can provide.

Coupling this with awareness training for executives, managers and HR professionals will help further embed an understanding and validity of mental health issues in your workplace culture.

  1. Talk openly about mental health

Having your company’s commitment to supporting good mental health in the workplace will help encourage people to speak mo