ACAS publish their Guide for promoting Positive Mental Health in the Workplace

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has published its annual Guide on Mental Health, entitled ‘Promoting positive mental health in the workplace.’ Employers must ensure that they understand their legal obligations when dealing with mental ill health, and the best practices that are encouraged.

The various misconceptions and a lack of understanding surrounding mental health conditions have meant that the stigma associated with mental health remains.
Such stigma promotes an ill-informed culture towards mental health, and discourages staff from talking about mental health problems. As a result, mental health problems may not be spotted until they become serious, worsening the impact on both the individual and the organisation.

ACAS defines mental health as: ‘the mental and emotional state in which we feel able to cope with the normal pressures of everyday life.’ Examples range from common
conditions such as anxiety and depression to more severe conditions including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Employers that recognise and adapt to manage the mental health of staff can expect to be rewarded with staff more likely to perform well, work productively and maintain a strong attendance record.

Employers must ensure that they comply with legal obligations when dealing with mental ill health. This includes the duty upon employers, that when mental ill health amounts to a disability, employers consider making ‘reasonable adjustments’ to allow the member of staff to continue to carry out their job. The duty to make reasonable adjustments extends to not only current staff, but also anyone with a mental health condition who is applying to join the organisation.

A mental health problem is classed as a disability if it is a ‘mental impairment’ which has ‘a substantial and long-term adverse effect’ on their ‘ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. A ‘reasonable adjustment’ will depend upon the size of the organisation and available resources, however an example might include increased support from their manager to ensure they can manage their workload or providing extra training or coaching.

As a matter of best practice, ACAS also encourages employers to create a ‘mental health action plan’, highlighting the organisations commitment to supporting the mental health of staff, and identifying ways to improve the workplace so as to tackle the causes of mental health problems. For example, stress related to an unhealthy work-life balance may be combated through encouraging flexible working arrangements, and ensuring staff take the breaks and leave they are entitled.

Employers are encouraged to compliment the action plan with a ‘mental health policy.’ Suggested inclusions within the policy are details of all support services in place for staff experiencing mental ill health, and a reiteration of the organisations commitment to promoting positive mental health for its entire staff.

To combat the misconceptions and lack of understanding, and ensure the effective promotion of positive mental health, ACAS further suggests that employers should ensure that they educate the workforce about mental health. Staff should know what mental health means and signpost the support available to them. Such education could be completed through the training of management and staff in mental health awareness, ranging from the standards of behaviour expected of staff, to spotting the signs that they or someone they know may be experiencing ill mental health. Such discussions should be on-going, with a variety of possible mediums from one-to-one meetings to newsletters and emails.

If you would like further information on this topic, you can contact Millie Kempley or another member of the employment team on 0345 070 6000.

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