Managing Mental Health Issues and disabilities in the Workplace

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Written by: Alcumus
28th March

Absence from work affects productivity and profit for all employers, regardless of the size of the business or the sector they operate within. SME businesses often say that they suffer even more when they have an unplanned absence as they have less staff and therefore the burden on the absent employee’s colleagues is more keenly felt.

The Work Foundation estimates that mental ill health costs the UK economy an astounding £70 billion each year. One in four people are affected by a mental health issue at some point in their lives and so it is extremely important that employers know how to support employees in this situation.

Mental ill health is not visible in the same way physical health issues can be and they may not be diagnosed by medical professionals. This means that line managers may not be aware of the problem. Even if there has been a diagnosis and line managers are aware of the issue, they may not feel comfortable addressing the issues for a number of reasons. Line managers can struggle knowing when it is appropriate to intervene and may not feel they have the necessary skills to address the issue and therefore ignore it.

How we can support employers in this situation

At Alcumus PSM, our expert HR consultants have many years’ experience and can support employers when dealing with employees with mental health issues. We offer guidance and support while ensuring that the employee is dealt with sensitively and feels comfortable. Every situation will be different, and it important that you approach each situation likewise, while also understanding your legal obligations. 

Below is an overview of some of the ways we can offer you expert support:

  • Giving managers the tools to effectively manage sickness absence and record it appropriately, such as return to work meetings.
  • Ensuring that all HR documentation such as employment contracts and the Employee Handbook are up to date, to ensure there is clarity regarding the sickness absence reporting procedure, time off for medical appointments and sick pay
  • Advising on job descriptions to ensure that the remit of the role & expectations are clear to avoid ambiguity that could lead to stress & poor performance
  • Training managers to deal with staff issues such as disciplinaries and grievances. We run a range of training courses, including Managing People at Work, Equality and Diversity and Managing Conflict.
  • Training managers to spot common signs of mental health issues such as stress, anxiety or depression early on, before they escalate
  • Ensuring that managers understand that stress can be triggered by work such as conflict with colleagues, change, a lack of control, or a high workload and that others may be triggered by an employee’s personal life, such as a relationship breakdown or bereavement. Regardless of the trigger for the illness, support should be provided to the employee
  • Giving guidance to managers on how to deal with difficult conversations/ challenging behaviour that could be linked to mental health issues such as stress reactions, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia etc.
  • Helping the manager to consider whether the mental health condition may constitute a disability  and if they should be considering making reasonable adjustments to the employees’ role or work environment, to support them in their employment
  • Helping the manager to consider whether their risk assessments are sufficient for an employee who may be more vulnerable due to a mental illness
  • Giving guidance to managers on how to conduct welfare meetings and appraisals
  • Advising managers on how to obtain a GP Report, if the employee consents to this
  • Advising managers on referring employees with diagnosed or suspected mental health issues to Occupational Health for an assessment, if appropriate.
  • Supporting our clients with introducing an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). This could include offering employees with mental health issues counselling, if required.

The most common type of complaint lodged under discrimination legislation involves a failure to make reasonable adjustments. If an employer knows or is likely to be aware of an employee's disability, they have a legal obligation to consider appropriate adjustments to the role and the working environment.

Occupational Health Assessments can carefully consider any underlying medical conditions that an employee has, will recommend adjustments and how to put the necessary support in place.

Our business partner Fusion are experts in this field and can provide online work health assessments to individuals after the offer of employment has been made. If any underlying medical conditions have been identified, they will review how that may impact on the role and the likeliness of absence, allowing them to make recommendations that will help employees carry out their role safely and efficiently.

If you would like more information how to deal with mental ill health or disability in the work place, please contact your HR consultant