Good Mental Health at Work

One in four people in the UK will have a mental health problem at some point. Mental health is about how we think, feel and behave. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems and often a reaction to difficult life events, perhaps a bereavement, but can also be caused by work-related issues.

Whether work is causing the health issue or aggravating it, employers have a legal responsibility to help employees. Work-related mental health issues should be assessed to measure the levels of risk to staff. Where a risk is identified, steps must be taken to remove it or reduce it as far as is reasonably practical. The CIPD point out that: mental health issues have a significant impact on employee well-being and are a major cause of long-term absence from work. In 2017, the government commissioned Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer (Chief Executive of Mind) to independently review the role employers can play to better support individuals with mental health conditions in the workplace.

Help in the workplace

The ‘Thriving at Work’ report sets out a framework of actions – called ‘Core Standards’ – that make recommendations which employers of all sizes can and should put in place. The standards are designed to help employers improve the mental health of their workplace and enable individuals with mental health conditions to thrive.


Managers need to feel confident and competent to have conversations with staff about sensitive issues like mental health and signpost to specialist sources of support if necessary and this may mean that training and materials should be provided. The culture of an organisation, and the level of awareness and training around mental health, will affect whether or not employees and line managers can have open and supportive conversations on the topic. Employers should take steps to support employees and show their commitment to promoting positive mental health.

HR should ensure that employees know how to access the support provided by the organisation even if they don’t wish to disclose an issue to their manager. Sadly it often easier in most organisations to discuss a physical condition like a broken leg than disclose a mental health condition like depression or anxiety. It need not be so difficult - just as you would with physical health a good place to start is simply to ask someone how they’re doing.

Protection in the workplace

The Equality Act 2010 is the law that gives employees the right to challenge discrimination. It protects them from being discriminated against because of certain protected characteristics, such as gender, age or disability. Mental health falls under the category of disability.

Work-related stress and mental health problems often go together and the symptoms can be very similar. Work-related stress can aggravate an existing mental health problem, making it more difficult to deal with. If work-related stress reaches a point where it has triggered an existing mental health problem, it becomes hard to separate one from the other.

Everything the organisation can do to help is useful. Most of those with mental health problems are diagnosed and treated by their GP and continue to work productively and the evidence shows that staying in work can be a great help to those affected. They may need support, and managers should work with them to ensure flexibility to suit their health needs.

Advice and support are available for those in work who have experienced mental health issues, and for their employers. The Mental Health Foundation is a great resource

Posted: Wednesday 13 February 2019

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