Improving mental health and wellbeing at work

Although many predicted that a national lockdown and restrictions on our daily activity would have a negative impact on wellbeing and mental health, the recent statistics are still very surprising, say Alex Franklin and Toni Lewis.

  1. More than 80,000 children under 18 have been referred to NHS mental health services (28% more than 2019);
  2. 1 in 10 people (adults) up to March 2020 had moderate or severe depression but in June 2020 1 in 5 people experienced moderate to severe depression; and
  3. It’s estimated that 10 million more people will experience mental ill-health in the UK related to the pandemic.

Even before the pandemic, wellbeing and mental health was a topic that was rising rapidly up many company agendas but has massively accelerated in the last year and has shot to the top of the agenda during the pandemic. Many of us have been dealing with some combination of isolation, blurring of boundaries between home and work, and juggling childcare/family responsibilities. As more of the country becomes vaccinated, the focus has started to turn away from Covid-19 and the physical health implications to the mental health issues that the people of the UK are now suffering with.

As we ease back into the “new normal”, and businesses either call employees back to the office or adopt a new “hybrid” way of working, employers will need to be aware of all wellbeing issues impacting their workforce and their employment law obligations.

What can employers do?

Employees spend more time “at work” than anywhere else. Employers owe a duty of care to their employees under employment law legislation, but the best employers will foster a culture that goes beyond their legal duties to attract and retain talent, as well as creating a good working culture.

Many businesses have acted rapidly with early intervention. They are implementing the following:

  • Offering extra training to line managers on spotting mental health/wellbeing issues and dealing with them appropriately in line with employment law and the business’ policies;
  • Having poll surveys to understand how people are feeling;
  • Encouraging wellbeing calls and check-ins to see employees are feeling;
  • Implementing no zoom calls on Friday;
  • Normalising having open conversations around mental health: and
  • Building partnerships with mental health charities and supporting positive action in improving mental health provision. For example, in the legal profession, we are seeing social enterprises like ‘claiming space’ being born to offer training to lawyers in dealing with some of the more emotionally complex cases that they deal with.

However, improving your business’ wellbeing culture can be as simple as having a conversation. Talking to your employees, encouraging honest discussions between colleagues, and sharing positive stories are simple things that all managers can do to demonstrate the business’ commitment to employee wellbeing.

Case law example of an Employer’s failure

In the case of Mrs E Aylott v BPP University Ltd, the Claimant succeeded in her claim for constructive unfair dismissal against her former employer, private law university BPP. The Claimant had historically suffered from mental health conditions brought on by an accident that had ended her first career as a physiotherapist, post-natal depression following on from the birth of her first child, and then the death of her husband.

Throughout the judgement, Employment Judge Adkin referred to the failure of the Respondent to properly refer the Claimant to occupational health as a primary issue. Instead, the Respondent offered the Claimant a settlement agreement and re-engagement as a contractor. This was indicative of the Respondent’s desire to terminate the Claimant’s employment as opposed to attempting to resolve the situation.

There were several failures considered by the Tribunal:

  • The Claimant was informed that her line manager called her “mad as a box of frogs”;
  • the Claimant was told that “someone of her age and experience should be able to manage their workload”;
  • The failure to reduce the Claimant’s workload or provide her with additional support after this was recommended by a Doctor;
  • The failure to heed indications that the Claimant was not coping;
  • The attempt to steer the Claimant towards termination of her employment under a settlement agreement rather than refer her to Occupational Health;
  • The superficial grievance investigation, consisting of a limited interview process with the outcome containing material inaccuracies; and
  • The failure of the appeal outcome to consider all of the Claimant’s arguments, which was sufficient to amount to the last straw.

This case is an excellent example of failure to support an employee with poor mental health, with the Claimant being awarded a six-figure sum of £168,000.

What Capital can do for you

2020 was an unprecedented year and it’s not surprising that many employers are struggling to strategise how they can best support staff and retain and attract the best talent. The team at Capital can help. We have a network of experts in the field who can provide training to you and your managers, work with you to develop company policies, and help you to handle grievances and wellbeing strategies – all of which all can contribute to a healthier, more productive workforce. Our newly launched Capital Academy can provide training across a number of disciplines, empowering your people in fields such as ED&I, Wellbeing, and Mental Health First Aid.

In addition, through Capital’s partnership with our occupational health partner, Caer Health, we are able to support your organisation to improve workforce health and meet your legal obligations. Whether you require one-off support for specific cases or an ongoing relationship, we’ll shape our occupational health support to meet the needs of your business. We’ll help you approach the challenges that lie ahead in absence management, staff wellbeing, and working ergonomics robustly, fairly, and with your people at the centre of your strategy.

If you would like to learn more about how we can help your organisation and its people, please do get in touch.