A clear commitment to promoting mental health sends out a strong message. Directors and managers can champion initiatives that support good mental health, provide support to those that need it and challenge the associated stigma. This commitment needs to be stated in a policy that is visible and understandable to all employees. From the employer’s point of view, a mental health at work policy allows the impact of mental health issues to be measured and managed.
Implementing a dedicated mental health at work policy is also an opportunity to review other standing company policies to ensure these are conducive to supporting good mental health at work. It is important that a company’s standing policies avoid preferential or inconsistent treatment of employees, which risks a discrimination claim.
Because companies have a statutory duty to protect employees from stress, template company policies on stress are available. The IoD Business Information Service can provide IoD members with the Stress At Work Policy template published by Practical Law.
Request Stress At Work Policy template
A standalone mental health at work policy should only be as long as required and should use plain language. The policy should only call on resources which the company is able to consistently deliver. Much of the policy is concerned with embedding regard for mental health in existing company practice, such as training and appraisals. The policy could divide into the following sections:
Introduction and overview of policy objectives
- State why mental health is important
- Outline the measures taken by the company to support mental health
- Explain how the outcomes of the policy will be measured
- Provide a channel for staff input to update the policy
Personnel responsible for the policy
- Name the people or roles with specific responsibility for mental health
- Affirm that those responsible are trained to deliver the policy
- Require that all employees take care over their personal physical and mental health
Acknowledgement of statutory obligations
- Recognise that serious mental illnesses qualifies as a disability under the Equality Act 2010
Describe both routine and special provisions to support mental health. These might include:
- Routine – A robust appraisal system and regular catch-ups between formal appraisals, Learning and Development programmes; flexible working requests, provision of an employee assistance programme
- Special – Host scheduled sessions to maintain mental health awareness; Provide direction to relevant and reliable resources; Provide access to specialist services.
What an employee experiencing a mental health issue should do
- An affected employee would first contact their line manager. There should always be another option, often a Human Resources contact is provided
- In response, the employer will conduct a workload review and request medical advice (possibly including a formal report)
- Be aware that an employee may be reluctant to disclose a mental health issue at work. Provide information on external support services which can serve as the vital first step
Absence due to mental illness*
- If your company has an existing absence policy, this is must be applied for the sake of consistency
- In cases of long-term absence, both the employer and employee will agree terms for keeping in touch. This is very much in the interest of the employee. A phased return to work programme requires particular consideration – the charity Mind provides valuable guidance on how a return to work should be designed and conducted
- This section emphasises that all persons either delivering the policy or receiving support from it are bound to treat all information as confidential. Confidentiality is subject to an organisation’s safeguarding obligations
Protection for people in contact with the policy
- A guarantee that anyone who discloses a mental health condition, or who participates in any investigation under the policy, will not face negative consequences
*Absence due to mental illness – All employee absence falls under the regular absence policy. Many companies take a staged approach in which a certain number of absences or total of days absent triggers another process, often a period of targeted attendance. If the employee does not comply, the case becomes a disciplinary matter. This approach is at odds with positive management of mental health issues, and it is better to consider ways of helping an affected employee avoid contact with the absence and disciplinary policies. Some immediate options to consider are flexible working and allowing the purchase of additional annual leave.
For further information, advice and tools for creating a workplace mental health plan and increasing employee awareness of mental health, the following sources of information are available:
Mental Health At Work Gateway
Mental health charity Mind has created a portal through which a range of resources supporting mental health at work can be accessed
- The IoD Mental Health Hub contains advice, best practice and resources to help small and medium-sized businesses develop their approach to mental health
- The Business in the Community Mental Health Toolkit is a helpful guide to follow for formulating a plan and has many links to useful resources and case studies of good practice
- Mental Health First Aid England has produced a ‘Workplace Wellbeing Toolkit’
- The What Works Centre for Wellbeing provides evidence based guidance on a range of mental health and workplace issues
- Healthy Working Wales provide face-to-face, telephone, online and one-to-one support around health and safety, sickness absence and workplace approach to managing health and wellbeing
- Time to Change England and Wales have produced guidance and a range of free resources on how to create a workplace mental health plan and other ideas for workplaces (In England and Wales)
- Mind offers a range of information for employers and employees, and related training courses and consultancy
- Rethink Mental Illness has published a range of mental health factsheets
- NHS England has published the ‘Five ways to Wellbeing’ to improve public awareness of how to look after mental health
- ACAS also provide a range of guidance
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