Working Minds Launched By HSE

The UK lost over 17 million working days as a result of stress, anxiety, or depression in 2020. Mental health issues are the most common reason given for sick days in the UK. Even before the pandemic, it was estimated that mental health issues cost UK employers up to £45 billion a year.

Workplace Stress

Mental health is about how we think, feel, and behave. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems. They are often a reaction to a difficult life event, such as a bereavement or divorce, but can also be caused by work-related issues.

Workers feel stressed when they can’t cope with pressures and other issues. Many factors can contribute to stress in the workplace, including tight deadlines, workers feeling they don’t have the right skills, too much responsibility, and lack of managerial support.

Stress affects people differently. What stresses one person may not affect another. Factors like skills and experience, age or disability may all affect whether an employee can cope.

When work-related stress is prolonged, it can lead to both physical and psychological damage. Work can also aggravate pre-existing conditions, and problems at work can bring on symptoms or make their effects worse.

Mind Survey

The charity Mind surveyed almost 12,000 people across England and Wales in April 2021. Mind aims to support and empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem in the UK. The results found that around a third of adults and young people said their mental health has become much worse since March 2020. The survey also found that although some people accessed support for the first time during the pandemic, one in five adults did not seek support because they didn’t think their problem was serious enough. Some people also reported not feeling comfortable reaching out for support. The survey also shows that two in five employees’ mental health had worsened during the pandemic.

Another survey of 40,000 people in 114 organisations found that although many staff felt more comfortable talking to their employer about their mental health, too often they were not offered any additional support or adjustments to their roles.

These statistics have prompted the HSE to warn that work-related stress and poor mental health risk becoming a health and safety crisis for Britain’s workplaces.

Legal Duty

Whether work is causing a mental health issue or aggravating it, the law requires all employers to assess the risk of work-related stress and to prevent such stress as a means to promote, support and sustain good mental health in the workplace.

If a worker has a pre-existing physical or mental health condition when recruited, or develops one because of factors that are not work-related, the business is still required to address the associated risks.

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled staff. This includes staff whose mental health has a substantial adverse effect on their daily lives and has lasted or is expected to last over 12 months.

If a business has fewer than five employees, the law does not require written risk assessments. However, it is useful to do this so it can be reviewed later, for example, if something changes. The law requires a written risk assessment if the business has five or more employees. The written assessment should note the main points about the significant risks and the steps to be taken to remove them or reduce them as far as reasonably practicable.

Working Minds

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has responded to the above facts by calling for a culture change in Britain’s workplaces to ensure psychological risks are treated the same way as physical ones in health and safety risk management.

It has launched a new campaign called Working Minds that is targeted specifically at the six million workers in Britain’s small businesses. The campaign aims to help businesses recognise the signs of work-related stress and make tackling issues routine. It also highlights the legal duty of employers to prevent work-related stress, the triggers of stress, and how to manage the risks.

The campaign is specifically targeting businesses with fewer than 20 employees. There are about 1.1 million SME businesses in the UK that fit into this category, with approximately six million workers in total. The campaign will focus on Construction, Agriculture, Health, Manufacturing and the Motor trade (specifically the repairs, not the retail sector).

HSE is partnering with several organisations and is supported by Mind, ACAS, the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, Composites UK, the UK Home Care Association, the Farm Safety Foundation, Lifelines Scotland, NHS, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Federation of Small Businesses, CONIAC and Mates in Mind.

The 5 R’s

HSE’s campaign gives organisations and employers the tools to spot potential signs of mental ill-health, and to develop or improve their practices to protect the psychological health of their staff.

The number one cause of employee sickness absence is work-related stress. The Working Minds campaign provides employers and workers with easy to implement advice, including simple steps known as the ‘5 R’s’. These are to Reach out, Recognise, Respond, Reflect, and make it Routine.

There are several possible steps and tactics that employers can take to counter workplace stress. For example, employers should look to match demands to employees’ skills and knowledge. Providing planning, training and support can reduce pressure and bring stress levels down.

Talking Toolkit

The campaign is a way to access many resources. ACAS, Mind and the Farm Safety Foundation have provided additional advice and resources. The HSE has created a Talking Toolkit aimed at assisting employers in speaking to their employees and taking the first step towards preventing work-related stress and developing the actions and stress risk assessment employers need to comply with the law.

The toolkit has six templates for six different conversations. Each template has a different theme designed to help line managers and employees talk about issues that may be the cause of work-related stress, or may have the potential to become future causes of stress if not managed properly.

More information about the campaign, including details for employers and employees, and additional resources, can be accessed via the Working Minds webpage.

The pandemic has had a significant impact on the health and well-being of the populace and has highlighted the fact that work-related stress and poor mental health can affect workers’ performance and impact personal lives as much as poor physical health and injury.

Investing in the mental health of staff is not only the right and responsible thing to do, it can also save money in terms of reduced sickness absence and staff turnover, and increased staff morale and productivity.

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