Everyone wins when employers take steps to safeguard staff mental health, a leading Northern Ireland human resources adviser has said.
Employers are being urged to revise workplace policies regarding mental health in the workplace to mark Mental Health Awareness Week.
Human resources and employment law specialists HR Team says every employer has a duty of care to staff to protect their health, safety and wellbeing.
Martina McAuley, from the Derry-based company, explains: “This includes minimising the risk of mental ill health or stress-related illness and injury to employees,” she said.
She says if policies are not already in situ they should be implemented immediately in the interests of both the employer and the employed. Existing policies, she adds, should be reviewed and revised.
“Employers should look at a comprehensive strategy that focuses on the promotion of staff wellbeing, reduces the risk of work-related mental health issues and safeguards those who are experiencing mental ill health,” says Ms. McAuley. “Risk assessments and stress management policies, annual staff satisfaction questionnaires can be part of this strategy.
“Taking these steps not only protects the individual but will result in a more engaged workforce. Staff who are engaged are generally eager to succeed and much less likely to underperform or take stress-related absences.
Employers, says Ms McAuley, cannot treat employees differently on the grounds of mental ill health. For example, some mental illnesses will constitute a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and, as such, are a protected characteristic within employment law.
Estimates suggest work-related mental ill health costs the UK economy up to £30 billion annually through lost working days, staff turnover and reduced productivity.
The Centre for Mental Health charity estimates that employers should be able to cut the cost of mental health by about a third by improving their management of mental health at work.
Ms McAuley continues: “Overlooking the warning signs of mental health or stress related problems is not a good move for employers as it can lead to high staff turnover or increased absenteeism.
“Employers are advised to be proactive in their policies and practice. The right workplace support, in which positive relationships are promoted, can emphasise this culture.”
Ms McAuley adds that employers should ensure strong lines of communication are evident across the workplace.
“Staff need to be clear of their roles, expectations and responsibilities - communication is a two-way process and an engaged workforce is more likely to be motivated and feel comfortable communicating and feeding back to managers.”
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