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Mental Health Awareness Week: Returning to the workplace

Lockdown restrictions are set to be eased further on 17 May 2021, and many employers are beginning to welcome their employees back to the workplace. While it is understandable that employers will be focused on protecting their employees’ physical health, ensuring that its workplace is Covid-19 secure, consideration should also be given to how employers can safeguard their employees’ mental health.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, which runs from 10 – 16 May 2021, is a good opportunity for employers to do just that. The pandemic has had a major impact on people’s mental health, with many experiencing significant levels of anxiety, stress and isolation over the past year. Employers may therefore need to provide a greater level of support to employees than before.

Employers can start by assessing what support is already in place. Line managers are an invaluable resource; they are often the first person an employee will approach for help, and are best placed to spot any developing issues, such as an employee staying late, taking on too much work, or an unexplained drop in quality of work.

Line managers should therefore have appropriate training to ensure they are comfortable having conversations with employees about how they can support them and are able to spot the signs and take action where necessary. This may mean managing an employee’s workload or organising more regular check-ins with the employee.

Employers should also consider whether there is any wider support available, such as access to hotlines, the HR team, or occupational health services if needed.

The pandemic has had a major impact on people’s mental health, with many experiencing significant levels of anxiety, stress and isolation over the past year.

Inspiration on how to support employees could also be taken from the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week – Nature. The Mental Health Foundation have highlighted the link between spending time in nature, and the positive impact on a person’s mental health. Employers could encourage their employees to take their breaks outside, away from their desks or stations, or decorate the spaces with plants to bring nature to their employees.

In addition to the above steps, employers must be aware of their duties under the Equality Act 2010. People with ongoing mental health difficulties may satisfy the definition of disability under this Act, which means they are protected from harassment and discrimination, and they may require reasonable adjustments to assist with their work. This could take the form of changing a person’s working pattern or how they perform certain tasks.

Looking after employees’ mental wellbeing is a long-term responsibility, and employers should be prepared to adapt and change their approach as the needs of employees change. If you need any advice on how to support your employees, or need further information on your duties under the Equality Act 2010, our employment lawyers are happy to assist.


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