Woman with her head in her hands at a cluttered desk.

Employer advice for supporting mental health at work

In 2024, there continues to be a more open discussion about mental health both inside and outside the workplace. As ways of working evolve and expectations shift, it’s important that employers are doing everything they can to support the mental health of their employee when they are at work.


What mental health struggles exist in the workplace?

Evidence suggests that struggles with mental health are affecting more people than ever before in the UK. Research by the Mental Health Foundation has found that 14.7% of those in employment experience problems with mental health in the workplace. Last year, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England reported that more than half of all workplace illnesses in the UK were due to poor mental health.

Protecting the mental health of your employees is important as it helps maintain a positive workplace environment, develop company culture, and retain talented staff. Furthermore, mental health struggles often lead to less productive workplaces through absences, distraction, and absenteeism. This is supported by the statistic that 12.7% of absences due to sickness are attributed to mental health conditions. It’s estimated that improvements in mental health support from businesses could save up to £8 billion over the course of a year.

Some of the common factors that can be associated with workplace mental health issues include:

  • Stress.
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Concerns over money.
  • Unfair working practices.
  • Bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
  • Job insecurity.
  • Workloads.
  • Leadership style.
  • Work – life balance.
  • Underlying conditions.


Legal obligations of employers to workers’ mental health

All employers have a ‘duty of care’ that requires they support their employees’ health, safety, and wellbeing. This includes taking steps to address mental health struggles. The Equality Act 2010 outlines that an employee with a poor quality of mental health can be considered disabled under certain conditions. This will be the case if the following is true:

  • Their state of mental health has had a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on their life in a regular capacity.
  • It has lasted, or is expected to last, for at least 12 months.
  • Their mental health is preventing them from completing what are considered to be ‘normal day-to-day working activities’, such as following instructions or arriving at work on time.

If this is the case, the employer must try to make sure no discrimination is directed at them because of their disability. Even if their mental struggles don’t constitute a disability, our legal advice for employers is to make appropriate adjustments for them. For instance, additional breaks might be given to an employee throughout the working day. The exact nature of the support should vary based on the individual’s job role and the kind of work they are required to complete.


How to support mental health in the workplace

There isn’t just one aspect of mental health support that employers need to focus on to provide a comprehensive framework. Crafting an ideal range of HR policies and procedures for mental health support involves focusing on the following:

If employees don’t feel comfortable to come forward and tell a manager about their mental health problems, it limits what employers can do to offer support. As such, the first step in mental health support should be cultivating a workplace culture that encourages people to share and be open with one another. It’s important to communicate that the organisation is committed to supporting mental health, which can be done through specific policies or more proactive steps that raise awareness.

According to a Mind poll, work is considered to be the most stressful factor in people’s lives. As a result, it can sometimes be difficult for employees to talk about stress when they are in the workplace. Employers can provide support by providing training for employees and managers on how to approach conversations around mental health, as well as recognise signs of mental health struggles. In terms of the latter, this can manifest as:

  • Changes in attitude to work and productivity.
  • Changed behaviour towards colleagues.
  • Lack of organisation.
  • Less participation.
  • Appearing more tired or anxious.

Once you’ve confirmed that someone is going through struggles with mental health, it’s time to help them overcome the key issues responsible. Small adjustments to the workplace are recommended as initial support. This could include flexible working hours, different break times, changing location in the workplace, or changes to the role itself. From here, additional support could be provided in the form of additional training, constructive feedback, support with workload, and more. Note that these are just a few suggestions of what employers can put in place to support employee mental health. Contact an employment law specialist for bespoke advice around mental health support.

Employers should make appropriate provisions to allow workers to take time off work due to poor mental health. There shouldn’t be any guilt or shame associated with having to take the time off, and their return to work should be handled in a considerate way. During their time off, employers should have open communication channels. This demonstrates you care about the needs of the employee beyond their role. HR policies should also make it clear what is expected of managers.

Specialist employer mental health support

Employment Law Services (ELS) Ltd are committed to supporting employers in all aspects of employment law. This includes proper legal procedure as well as best practices in areas such as workplace mental health. Our team of experts can also provide employment law help with redundancy, settlement agreements, and staff management to name just a few areas. Get in touch to discuss what type of assistance your business needs.