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Mental health: Biggest challenge to face employers and workers in the next decade?

20 December 2019

Recent research suggests that one in four people in the UK will suffer from a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety each year. It is no surprise then that mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is becoming an increasingly important issue for everyone.

One of the main pieces of legislation in this area is the Equality Act 2010. This gives us a definition of “disability” which is fairly wide reaching. Disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Caroline Carr
Caroline Carr

Long-term is defined as a condition which has lasted or is expected to last for 12 months or more. Whether the condition has a substantial adverse effect on normal day-to-day activities will depend on individual circumstances. The upshot is that many mental health conditions will amount to a “disability” and will be covered by the provisions of the Equality Act 2010.

In practice, this means that employees (and also a wider group of workers) have certain legal protections in the workplace if they suffer from a disability. The converse of course is that employers have certain legal duties with which they must comply in relation to those employees and workers.

Of course both employers and individuals may not know whether a particular health condition meets the legal definition of disability when issues arise in the workplace, for example, short or long term absence, sub-standard performance, or other workplace conduct. The reality, however, is that whether or not the condition meets the legal definition of disability, many employers are more proactive than ever in supporting mental health in the workplace. With one-fifth of lost working days in the UK being attributed to mental health illness, it makes good business sense for a whole host of reasons.

With that in mind, what might you do in your own organisation (or ask your employer to do) to support workplace health and wellbeing? Here are some ideas:

  • Open up the dialogue about mental health and wellbeing – one to one conversations, group conversations, mental health champions and mental health first aiders.
  • Review an “always on” culture and find ways for employees to detox and disconnect – removing presenteeism, creating a space away from technology for lunch breaks, outdoor walking meetings and encouraging regular breaks.
  • Offering health and other support packages: confidential employee assistance programmes, occupational health support, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and professional counselling.

  • Promoting agile working: part time, compressed hours, job-sharing and home-working, whether on a permanent or temporary basis with new technology making this easier to do.

  • Support on return to work and education of other colleagues – refreshing or introducing a stress and mental wellbeing policy and making other information available. (Recommended: “This Book Could Help – Men’s Headspace Manual”).
  • Identifying other resources, such as coaches and mentors (whether internal or external) who are prepared to speak openly and honestly about their experiences and how they dealt with them.

We hope these ideas are helpful and as we move into a new decade, we can all work together to help support positive mental health outcomes.


Caroline Carr, Partner: / 0141 221 8012

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