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Samuel Phillips Law

Mind Over Matter

Mind over Matter

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Why is it that so many businesses, large and small, are failing to measure and manage the impact of the pandemic on their staff’s mental health?

Research commissioned by OHID (Office of Health Improvement and Disparities) at the end of last year revealed that nearly half (49%) of adults in England said the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on their mental wellbeing.

Worryingly more than a third of all adults in England (34% or 15.1 million) said they did not know what to do to help improve their mental wellbeing.

Younger adults reported struggling the most, with 57% of 18- to 34-year-olds saying their mental wellbeing was negatively impacted by the pandemic, and just under half (44%) reporting that they did not know what to do to help.

A more recent study undertaken by the South Westminster Business Alliance suggests that rather than improving, employee wellbeing and in particular mental health is not something employers are actively seeking to support. Over 500 managers were asked if they could identify signs of poor mental health amongst employees, 78% admitted they would struggle to do so.  Disturbingly one fifth of the managers surveyed said their business not had prioritised mental health matters.

Almost two thirds of the 2,000 employees surveyed suggested that managers struggled to identify signs of poor mental health and that they would benefit from training on the subject.

The problem is compounded by the continuation of flexible working arrangements, working from home and following new hybrid guidelines.  These policies can, at face value, look attractive to staff who might prefer to avoid a lengthy or costly commute.  Unfortunately, as many will now testify the reduction in “face to face” in person interactions can lead to increased anxieties and feelings of isolation, disconnected from those who are making key decisions and previously offered more direct management support.

The remote working environment will also make it harder for a manager to spot signs of poor mental health. Putting on a “show” for the department might be easy enough to pull off, masking the underlying mood and anxiety.

The OHID launched their “Better Health – Every Mind Matters” campaign in Autumn 2021 urging the public to find “what works for me” to support their mental wellbeing.  The campaign aimed to empower people to look after their mental health by directing them to free, practical tips and advice. By answering 5 simple questions through the “Every Mind Matters” platform they could access a tailored ‘Mind Plan’, giving them personalised tips to help deal with stress and anxiety, boost their mood, sleep better and feel more in control.

Here’s the link to the website https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/

The legal position with regards to the mental health of an employee is set out below.

Equality Act 2010 – Poor mental health can be considered a disability under the law the following apply:

  • The mental health issue has a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on the employee taking longer to complete standard tasks, interact with colleagues and adhere to a defined schedule
  • The prognosis is that the condition is likely to last 12 months
  • it affects their ability to do their normal day-to-day activities (for example, interacting with people, following instructions or keeping to set working times)

The above symptoms impacting performance at work may be intermittent and still be considered a disability.

The critical point is that mental health issues meeting the above criteria will be considered a disability, therefore employers:

  • Definitely must NOT discriminate against the member of staff due to the disability
  • Should be minded to make reasonable adjustments wherever possible

In addition, picking up on the survey results employers should be looking to invest in the training, education of managers/ supervisors so they may be able to more easily detect staff who may be suffering from mental health issues.

Note: This may often prove to be a sensitive issue for the employee as despite far greater awareness and acceptance of conditions there remains a stigma associated with a diagnosis linked to mental health problems.  It may prove helpful to nominate specific staff or a trusted third-party resource expert in the field of mental health to assist in establishing a plan to better support staff who may be struggling.

As with almost all workplace challenges the best approach is to find a way to communicate with the employee, respectful of the essential need for confidentiality but to highlight the employer’s interest in supporting staff through such difficulties and removing any additional anxieties over job security.

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