While many of us have had to adjust to working from home over the last nine months, lots of people are still continuing to carry out their employment from workplaces. Offices and places of work should be safe spaces where employees can undertake their workload in a secure environment. But if an employee’s mental health at work is suffering, whether that’s through work-related circumstances or external factors, employers have a responsibility to help make adjustments to the working environment to promote positive mental health.

Mental Ill Health At Work

Mental ill health can be a long-term condition, triggered by something that has happened recently, or it can occur spontaneously. Triggers that could impact on a person’s mental ill health at work may include:

  • Starting a new job/ promotion
  • Poor relationships with colleagues
  • Major life event (birth, death, divorce, house move)
  • Increase workload
  • Health scares, illness and pandemics
  • Changes in the business and redundancies
  • Trauma
  • Body chemistry
  • Addictions

Mental ill health is protected under the Equality Act as a disability so employers have a responsibility to make adjustments to accommodate mental ill health at work. But what are reasonable adjustments? 

Things an employer will need to consider when it comes to making adjustments for employees, are:

  • Cost: Are any adjustments realistic within the budget?
  • Disruption: Will this adjustment work for the rest of the workforce?
  • Practicality: Is it functional and workable?
  • Effectiveness: How far will it go to aiding the employee to do their job?
  • Assistance: Can you get help from the Access To Work Programme?

Read More: Mental Health at Work – The Business Case

Time To Change

Mental health conditions, such as anxiety, paranoia and depression can be hard for employers to spot, control and alleviate within the workforce. 

Speaking up and telling someone at work how you feel is important. But not everyone feels confident enough to open up about how they are feeling, especially at work. So employers need to keep an eye on any changes to their staff’s behaviours.

Is someone becoming increasingly withdrawn around colleagues or has someone’s routines and behaviours changed? If so, these could be warning signs that an employee’s mental health is suffering, so it might be the time to begin a conversation around this.

Making Adjustments

If an employee is suffering with depression or anxiety, going into an office can be complex. Even the commute can be a challenge. Employers could look to tweak employees’ hours to allow them to arrive at work during a quieter time. 

Social anxiety, another mental health disorder, may mean talking to big groups is difficult and can exacerbate symptoms. If this is the case, employers should be mindful of employees not speaking publicly at work while steps are being put in place to aid an employee’s recovery. 

Physical & Mental

Our physical and mental health are intrinsically linked, therefore employers should create a culture that promotes the importance of physical health at work. Emphasising the importance of physical wellbeing will help employees consider their mental health when inside and outside of the workplace. 

Organising lunchtime or after-work events can help staff with their physical and mental health and promote positive socialising too. Social events could include:

  • Football matches
  • Park runs
  • Online yoga classes
  • HIT sessions

Medication

Employees suffering from mental ill health may require medication if their medical practitioner deems it suitable. Adjustments at work may be required if an employee’s medication causes side effects. 

Working hours may need to be tweaked, for example, if an employee is suffering side effects from recent medication, for example lethargy in the mornings. 

Or perhaps an employee needs time to visit their GP or collect a prescription. Flexibility from employers will be required around such commitments and appointments.

Time to Recover

Employers also need to be aware of any time an employee may need to work on their recovery. 

Perhaps an employee is seeing a counsellor or therapist and needs time off work for these appointments. Employers can offer reasonable time off to attend out-of-work therapy sessions if this is something an employee needs. 

Similarly, a change in working hours could help to aid a person’s recovery. Options to discuss could include consolidating five days into four, to give an employee one day per week away from the office. 

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, working from home is much more prevalent and accessible, so if working from the office is causing an employee’s wellbeing to suffer, it might be time to discuss working from home.

Read More: How to Work from Home and Best Manage Your Mental Health

If their job role is not able to be carried out from home every day, could an employee perhaps work a few hours from home each day to carry out certain non-office-based tasks? 

Or, if an employee’s home isn’t a convenient place to work from, quiet spaces like libraries or designated coffee shops that have shared work spaces, or hot-desking buildings, might be a suitable alternative in the short term, depending on the job role. 

It’s worth remembering however that, for some employees, work spaces offer respite from a home environment the employee may not feel comfortable or safe working in. If an employee enjoys coming into the office as it offers respite from either solitude or uncertainty, employers need to be mindful of this. 

It may however be the case, in some circumstances, that it’s the best option if an employee remains at home for the wellbeing of all. A situation such as this can be very complex and requires swift intervention from the line manager, HR, OH and GP.

To Conclude

Ultimately, employers will be able to best ascertain what the correct solution is for their staff and should work to create an open discourse in the office environment. These conversations can be incredibly beneficial for helping to create Mental Health action plans, and to promote a healthy office environment.

If you are an employer who is facing these issues, or you’d like some help and guidance please contact us today to find out more about how our mental health awareness training courses can help your business best support your employees.