Mental health support: are managers doing enough?

Out-Law News | 13 Apr 2021 | 2:18 pm |

Laura Starrett tells HRNews regular ‘check-ins’ with employees are a simple but vital step


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  • Transcript

    Are your managers doing enough to support employees’ mental wellbeing? If not they run the risk of long term sickness absence in the future. People Management reports the latest survey showing one in four employees have had no mental health check-ins during the pandemic, with experts warning of a ‘criminal’ lack of communication with staff over their wellbeing. They urge employers to encourage more openness about the issue and to train up line managers, so they uncover problems. This is a poll of 2,000 workers by Mental Health First Aid England – 25% of them said their employers had not checked in on their mental health since the crisis hit a year ago. Similarly, nearly a third had never had a conversation with their line manager about their mental health in that time.

    Personnel Today covers this too and quotes Simon Blake, CEO at Mental Health First Aid England, who says employers need to give this serious attention. He urges managers to have regular wellbeing check-ins with colleagues and urges all employers to adopt this simple practice. 

    We agree, and it’s a message we have been getting across to our own clients. It’s a point I discussed with Laura Starrett who joined me by video-link from Manchester:

    Laura Starrett: “I think it's key that managers treat this as a priority and that they do really engage with the individuals in their team on this. Now practically speaking, how do they do this? It's about prioritising those one-to-one meetings and almost treating them as protected time so that they actually do happen and it’s not a meeting that can be moved so, inevitably, it is moved, and talking about life beyond the screen. So, in other words what is happening outside of work to help individuals, particularly those who are working from home, to create that division between work life and home life. By having those open and transparent conversations you are actually really getting a proper temperature check, if you like, on that individual's mood levels, and how you can practically help them. The broader piece around this, and why it is so critically important, is that if those conversations are not happening, you're potentially going to be in a situation whereby someone goes off for a long period of sickness absence, where in reality, simple measures such as keeping in touch with them could have prevented that from happening.”

    Joe Glavina: “We have a pandemic, so that’s a big change, but what has not changed are the employers’ legal duties”

    Laura Starrett: “Absolutely because I think mental health, now more than ever before, is really in the spotlight. I think it's looking beyond the measures that are currently in place and looking at the ramifications if we're not complying with those measures, so simple things like having one to one meetings, what are the ramifications of that? Also, building the knowledge with managers as to what the ramifications are. In other words, you're potentially then left with a scenario whereby that individual needs to go off for a period of sickness absence because they haven't been able to create that distinction between work life and home life.”

    Joe Glavina: “What about paper trails? So, the evidence needed to be able to show that you’ve had those meetings and so complied with the duty?”

    Laura Starrett: “I think it's important to keep a log of those one to one meetings and some of the key themes that have been discussed with that employee, and perhaps if they have been open with their line manager as to how they're feeling and they're perhaps not in a great place, what discussions have been had around that in terms of how they can also practically help themselves, but also what they have been made aware of in terms of the employers resources that they can also lean on in order to try and help improve their mental health at this time. So, I think that audit trail is going to be key, particularly if the business is then faced with a disability discrimination claim because that individual's mental health falls under the Equality Act as a disability, and then putting the employer in a position whereby they can demonstrate that they have done what they can in the circumstances to try and support that individual.”

    Joe Glavina: “Anything else to add to that Laura?”

    Laura Starrett: “I think the other point here is just to remember that there have been very different experiences over the past 12 months, depending on the individual's working arrangements and it’s recognising that. So, just reiterating, really, that with home workers it's that blurring of work life and home life. Also, for those who haven't been able to work from home and have been going into workplaces, those workplaces have changed and we’ve got mask wearing, social distancing, one-way systems. We've got staggered shift patterns which means that individuals don't see the same individuals that they would ordinarily see on a regular basis. Also, those employees that have temporarily not been working because they've been on a period of furlough and the negative impact that that can have on their own self value. So, it's recognising that journey that individuals have been on in the past 12 months and how best, as an employer, you can support them.”

    Laura referred to the Equality Act and of course many mental health conditions will qualify as a disability under that legislation and will trigger the duty to make reasonable adjustments. We did cover that last month in our programme - ‘Signs and signals’ key to employees’ mental health support. Amy Hextell explained how to manage that duty, avoid claims and avoid long term sickness absence as a result of mismanagement. That programme is available now for viewing on the Outlaw website.