Norfolks Voice

HR and employee mental health. What are my obligations?

Mad - hr

Mental health has become one of the biggest challenges employees and employers have had to manage in the continuously changing work dynamic.

In 2020/21, people were forced to shift into remote work as the pandemic, at its peak, took force. Never were stress and anxiety so high in the country’s workforce.

Employers have always had a duty of care in relation to the wellbeing of their employees, however the virus has emphasised more than ever the importance of health and wellbeing and the need to treat people as whole, rather than merely focusing on performance and output.

With mental health and wellbeing being increasingly recognised as important issues and the fact that ‘1 in 4 adults will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives’, the prevalence of mental health issues is such that few of us remain untouched by mental ill health in our lives, either personally or through a family member, friend or colleague.

Modern life is chaotic and packed with new pressures. New technologies along with bringing new opportunities, have accelerated our ‘always on’ lifestyles.

According to the Microsoft 2021 Trend Index, research involving over 30,000 people across 31 countries found that 45% of those surveyed felt overworked and 39% felt exhausted. When looking at how the pandemic has affected people, a 2021 Home Working study found that 31% of those participating in the study have seen a direct impact on their mental health, through depression, anxiety and exhaustion.

A total of 15.8 million working days were lost in the UK last year due to mental health conditions. It is clear that poor mental health does not just affect the individual – it is bad for business too.

What causes poor mental health in the workplace?

  • Demands of the job
  • Environmental conditions
  • Discrimination
  • Bullying
  • Lack of control over work
  • High workloads – impossible deadlines
  • Too low a workload – few challenges
  • Low support – inadequate or insensitive management

No single factor alone is likely to be the cause of someone becoming stressed or anxious at work. Stress tends to build up over a period of time due to different circumstances, some of which may not be related to work at all.

However, the sufficient number of employees affected by poor mental health can be a serious problem for your company as this can manifest in absenteeism, poor productivity, increased employee turnover and poor customer services.

So, what role should a business play in employee mental health?


Employers have a ‘duty of care’. This means they must do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety, and wellbeing. Employers should be conducting regular risk assessments to protect employees both physically and mentally in the workplace.

  • Making sure the working environment is safe.
  • Carrying out risk assessments.
  • Protecting employees from discrimination.

Most mental health conditions are likely to satisfy the legal definition of ‘disability’ under the Equality act 2010, as these conditions have a considerable and long-term impact on the employee’s day to day life. This means employees with mental health conditions could be protected from disability discrimination and be entitled to reasonable adjustments from their employer. A mental health issue can be considered a disability even if there are not symptoms all of the time, or their symptoms are better at some times than at others.

Often simple changes to an employee working conditions or responsibilities can be enough, some examples of reasonable adjustments could be:

  • Adjusting start and finish times;
  • Allowing home working;
  • Providing a quiet space to work;
  • Changing the way you communicate;
  • Providing extra or specialised equipment;
  • Increasing support and training regarding certain tasks.

If an employee asks for reasonable adjustments and as a business you do not feel you can accommodate the request, then you must be able to objectively justify why the request could not be accommodated.

If the request can be met, then you should discuss the adjustments with the employee.

Many employees will not speak to their manager about mental health for fear of job security and embarrassment, for example. For this to change, you as an employer need to create an open and supportive culture that encourages your employees to talk about their mental health and wellbeing. It is important that the business takes on a supportive role – but how do you do that?

  • Create a culture of openness – actively encourage discussions on wellbeing.
  • Prioritise work-life balance – make it clear that you respect the balance of work-life; you could adopt flexible working.
  • Invest in delivering a mental health and wellbeing training course for your managers/employees.
  • Continually prioritise mental health and wellbeing.

Good mental health and good management at work go hand in hand and there is strong evidence that workplaces with good wellbeing are more productive. Through developing and implementing wellbeing strategies and programmes that support the culture of the business as well as its business objectives, we at MAD-HR have helped our clients create a thriving community where they as employers and their teams are happy and productive.

If your employees enjoy good mental health, they can:

  • Be more productive;
  • Make the most of their potential;
  • Play a full part in the workplace;
  • Adapt to change;
  • Influence others;
  • Cope with what life throws their way;
  • Be creative and innovative;
  • Feel empowered;
  • Empower others.

All of us want to be happy in our workplace, and by introducing great mental health and wellbeing programmes into your business, the return on investment is huge.

If you need any help or advice relating to wellbeing programmes and how best to support your team, then please do get in touch and a member of the MAD-HR team will be only too happy to help.