Awareness and understanding of the role that employers have in helping their employees manage their mental health, and the benefits of doing so, has been growing in recent years, but the impact of the pandemic in this area has brought it into very stark relief.

Even before the pandemic, work related stress, anxiety or depression represented around 44% of work-related ill health, which equated to 12.8 million working days being lost as a result of mental illness in 2018/19 at an estimated cost to UK employers of £40 billion.

This is a huge issue which is likely to affect the great majority of employers in one way or another, and with NHS research already forecasting increased demand for mental health services in the next few years, it’s only reasonable to expect that this impact is going to become even greater.

There are clear benefits for employers in taking positive steps in relation to the mental health of their staff beyond just meeting their legal duty to protect employees from stress at work.

Providing the right kind of support in the working environment can help to reduce absence, cut down on mistakes, increase performance levels, improve working relationships between colleagues and help employers avoid complaints or claims against them.

Employers need to make sure that they and their managers are aware of the causes of workplace stress, and perhaps even more importantly, the warning signs that problems might be beginning to arise.

These can be anything from increased absence from the workplace, clashes with colleagues or managers or falling performance levels through to more serious incidences of violence or emotional breakdown.

It’s always a good idea, but most especially in the current climate, for employers to make a formal assessment of the stress risk in their workplace, which will not only identify some of the measures that can be adopted to help reduce it, but also some of the employment law issues they could risk facing if they don’t make any necessary improvements.

Taking proactive steps to prevent, or at least reduce stress at work is very much in an employer’s interest, as is having formal policies in place for what to do if an employee tells you they are suffering from stress, enabling them to return to work after any period away from the business and dealing with any related issues, such as absence management or reasonable adjustments.

Given the climate in which we find ourselves and the wider problems which lie ahead, it makes sense for employers to ensure that they and their management teams are fully on top of these issues before any issues, claims or complaints arise.

As well as providing policy development support and tailored advice, Hay & Kilner’s specialist Employment Team offers interactive training to managers to help businesses manage mental health responsibilities and reduce issues in their workplace.

For further information, please contact Hay & Kilner on 0191 232 8345

By Sarah Hall, partner in the specialist employment law team at Hay & Kilner Law Firm in Newcastle