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As a result of increased publicity and a greater focus on mental health in the workplace, the number of employees reporting mental health issues such as stress, depression and anxiety continue to rise.

This article highlights some of the steps that employers can take to proactively manage issues surrounding their employees’ mental health and explains the benefits of encouraging openness and awareness of the topic within the workplace.

Create a safe environment and make reasonable adjustments

Employers are required to create a safe environment for their employees, and it is their duty to take reasonable care to prevent issues surrounding the mental wellbeing of their staff from occurring within the workplace.

It is important that proactive steps are taken to maintain the mental health of all employees and to assist those with mental health issues to return or remain in work by making reasonable adjustments, such as reallocating duties or modifying working hours.

Carry out stress risk assessments

A useful method of gauging stress levels within the workplace is to regularly conduct a stress risk assessment, more details of which can be found on the HSE website.

By identifying the common causes of stress, employers will be able to plan what steps they need to take to minimise the risk to their employees.

Confidential employee support

Many people feel uncomfortable in confiding in their colleagues with regards to the sensitive subject of their mental health. Not being able to talk through the issues that they are facing can have a negative impact on an employee’s mental wellbeing.

A benefit commonly offered by employers to encourage staff to seek support is to have free access to an ‘Employee Assistance Programme’ or counselling service. This provides staff with confidential and professional advice, which can reduce staff turnover and absenteeism and improve employee productivity.

Provide managerial mental health awareness training

An essential step to increasing mental health awareness and support within the workplace is learning to recognise the common symptoms and how to support employees experiencing poor mental health.

Due to the nature of their roles, managers and supervisors are often the first to notice changes in a colleague’s behaviour. Therefore, equipping them with the knowledge and skills required to be able to approach their team members to offer assistance and support confidently, can significantly reduce the impact of mental health conditions on a business.

Be open about mental health

Mental health has historically been a ‘silent’ illness, however, in recent years, it has been more widely spoken about and publicised in an attempt to raise awareness and remove the stigma attached to it.

Encouraging a culture that enables employees to be able to talk openly about their mental wellbeing will minimise related discrimination and grievance incidents at the same time as providing support to those affected.

Training courses, workshops and talks from healthcare professionals can also be an effective way to promote the importance of openness.

In summary, employers need to carefully consider their approach to managing issues surrounding their employees’ mental health.

With the correct knowledge, management and planning, the risk of facing discrimination claims should the situation arise where it becomes necessary for you to take disciplinary or grievance action against an employee who has a diagnosed mental health disability can be significantly reduced.

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