In this piece we explore ways to ensure HR leaders meet their responsibilities to support their employees’ mental health and wellbeing.
There’s an abundance of health and safety legislation in place within the UK to protect physical wellbeing, and prevent any discrimination based on it. But when it comes to mental health and wellbeing, the responsibilities aren’t quite as clear – despite stress, depression, and anxiety accounting for 50% of all work-related ill health cases between 2020/21.
Speaking with HR leaders every day, it’s clear that the topic of mental health is one that’s increasingly important in the workplace – which means it’s crucial to understand where you’re responsibility lies.
Your responsibilities as an HR leader
When thinking about HR leaders’ responsibilities, it is best to look at the minimum legal requirements and work upwards from there.
ACAS simply states that employers have a “duty of care”, which means HR leaders must do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health and wellbeing. Also, CIPD adds that disability discrimination provisions in the Equality Act 2010 encompass many mental illnesses, so they need to be legally treated as a disability.
This leaves HR leaders and employers with very little legal responsibility at all. But we know that most will want to go far beyond this bare minimum to support their people.
We’ve all seen the effects mental health and wellbeing can have on the day-to-day running of the workplace, from lower morale and motivation to poorer performance – and in extreme cases, even conflict. But along with the effects on your workplace culture, there’s also a major cost impact. The Stevenson-Farmer review found that mental health issues can cost employers up to £1,205-£1560 per employee every year, due to combined factors such as absenteeism, presenteeism, and staff turnover.
These are just a couple of the reasons why it’s so important you treat mental health and wellbeing as equally as you do physical health. It’s also a chance to show your employees that you’re invested in them as people, and that they’re a valuable part of your organisation.
Ultimately, this means looking beyond your minimum legal responsibilities and exploring the actions you can put in place to support your workforce.
How to support your employees’ mental health and wellbeing
While you can’t provide all the support your employees will need to manage mental health challenges, you can build supportive structures within your workplace to create a welcoming environment for everyone. Here are three of the key lessons to helping HR leaders address their workforces’ wellbeing challenges:
- Invest in training for your managers
Team and line managers are a crucial part of driving your mental health and wellbeing strategy and setting the culture within your workplace. That means it’s important they’re effectively equipped to support employees with any issues they might face.
Mental Health Charity Mind recommends normalising conversations about mental health in regular one-to-one catchups between employees and line managers, to build trust and give employees a chance to raise any problems they have at an early stage.
Of course, this means your line managers will need the right soft skills to ensure they’re approachable and confident talking about these topics. Fortunately, there are plenty of convenient eLearning courses available today. SAP Litmos, for example, offers dedicated courses for health and wellbeing, leadership and management, and mindfulness – along with dozens of other courses around soft skills and communication.
- Modify your policies and practices
After the disruption in recent years, everyday working looks different for everyone. Without the right policies in place, it can quickly lead to additional stress that can have a negative impact on employees managing mental health issues.
One of the Harvard Business Review’s key recommendations for supporting employees’ mental health and wellbeing is to officially update policies that might have become outdated or made obsolete during or since the pandemic. This includes looking at your rules around remote and hybrid working, paid time off, communication, and unpaid leave.
Once you’ve updated your policies, it’s important the changes are clearly communicated to your teams. This is much easier if you’re using a central employee HR system that allows your people to access the information they need whenever they want – and serve themselves when it comes to reporting sickness, booking annual leave, and other essential tasks.
- Incorporate mental health and wellbeing into your overall strategy
Following the pandemic, many HR leaders and employers placing more of a long-term strategic focus on mental health and wellbeing. In fact, in Headspace’s global study, 71% of employees said their company had an increased focus on mental health due to the pandemic – but only 25% said their employer has maintained that focus in the past year.
To ensure you stick to your mental health and wellbeing goals, I’d recommend incorporating them as part of your company-wide strategy.
This will look different for every organisation, depending on the industry, workforce, and size. But regardless of what your organisation looks like, there are a lot of valuable resources available to help you assess how you’re currently supporting mental health in the workplace, and where you can take actions to improve.
One useful tool is BUPA’s workplace mental health audit – which provides a step-by-step way to assess the policies and procedures in your workplace. Similarly, Mind offers a Workplace Wellbeing Index, a system designed to benchmark your policies and highlight places you can become more supportive.