Louise Lawrence: Support for employees with mental health issues


In circumstances where 67% of employees with mental health issues do not tell their employer due to concerns about the reaction, as reported by Time to Change in October 2012, what are the red flags which signal that an employee may be suffering, and what steps can organisations take to ensure staff feel supported?

Warning signs can include withdrawal from social engagements, anxiousness, a sudden change in behaviour, a drop in work output or fatigue. However, there may be no obvious outward signs, and this is why it is important that an organisational culture encourages issues into the open.

If employees feel comfortable in their workplace environment, they are more likely to report issues about themselves, as well as take a proactive interest in others. It can be as simple as positioning the water fountain where people can have a quick chat without disturbing others, or encouraging employees to take a lunch break. The annual office bonding trip is only valuable if reinforced by the day-to-day culture.

Creating awareness about mental health will remove the stigma surrounding the topic and encourage dialogue; for example, the employer might consider holding wellbeing events or having a mental health champion.

Employees should have a variety of people available to whom they are able to report any concerns. All staff members, particularly those with managerial responsibilities, should receive training in recognising the warning signs of mental ill health and how they should respond to aid individuals. Confidential employee helplines and voluntary health and lifestyle screenings are also useful benefits to offer employees.

Employers need to be aware that if an employee’s condition amounts to a disability, they will need to put in place reasonable adjustments, such as flexibility around working times if the employee needs to attend medical appointments.

Louise Lawrence is a partner in the employment team at Winckworth Sherwood