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An Employer’s Guide to Managing Workplace Mental Health Issues

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According to the NHS mental health problems will affect 1 in 4 people at some point in their life and account for over 30% of sickness absence in the UK. Despite the prevalence of mental health absences, managers typically receive little training on how to deal with these issues and companies often lack formalised procedure. Dealing with a mental health issue with a member of staff is often considered challenging but it is similar to dealing with any other type of sickness.

Bear in mind that mental health problems can be very diverse, including things like depression, anxiety, phobias and psychosis.

First steps

Train yourself or any managers who are responsible for staff on the appropriate way to deal with an employee struggling with mental health problems. A lot of managers will not feel comfortable to talk openly about these issues and training them on the right way to approach the conversation will help build their confidence. Providing them with resources on how to support staff with mental health problems will create an open corporate culture around mental wellbeing which will lead to reduced absences and mitigate the risk of discrimination or grievances claims.


It’s understandable that opening up a conversation with an employee who appears to be suffering from mental health problems is an anxious situation for a line manager. However, avoiding the conversation won’t help the situation.
Managers should remember the reason behind the conversation and make known that the purpose of the conversation is for the employee’s wellbeing.

Mental health charities such as Mind offer helpful resources on how to approach this conversation.

Make Practical Allowances

It is part of your duty of care as an employer to ensure the wellbeing of your staff and once you are made aware of a health or disability that someone has you should make reasonable adjustments for this.

Making reasonable adjustments does not have to be complicated or costly, this can be as simple as:

  • Giving your employee time off for doctor’s appointments
  • Offering flexible working options
  • Training
  • Social and cognitive support

Keep in Contact

If it is necessary for the member of staff to take time off to recover, during this time you should keep in regular contact with them. It is recommended to keep weekly contact with an employee that is absent for mental health reasons. Not only will this help them avoid feelings of isolation, but keeping them abreast of anything changing in the company will help their transition back to work.

These conversations can also be a good time for managers to discuss with the employee what information they are happy to share with their colleagues about their absence.

Returning to work

Conduct a return to work interview as you would do with any form of long term absence, whilst being sensitive to the employee’s issues.

A therapeutic return, phased return or a return to work plan are all considerations which may give the employee the best possible chance of recovery and staying in work.

Better safe than sorry

If you’re concerned about approaching an employee you suspect is dealing with mental health problems, or mental health policies in the workplace, contact a legal professional for free employment law advice on 0161 115 6164.

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