Mental Health in the Workplace

07 November 2017

To celebrate World Mental Health Day in October this year, ACAS helpfully issued new guidance on ‘Promoting Positive Mental Health in the Workplace’ together with two short online guides titled ‘Dealing with Stress in the Workplace’ and ‘Managing Staff Experiencing Mental Health’.

Recent statistics in England show that one in six people suffer from a mental health problem every week and at least one in four of us will suffer from poor mental health at one point during our lives. As a result of the mental health problems that exist, it is not surprising that approximately 300,000 people with long term mental health issues have to leave their jobs each year.

This new guidance from ACAS will therefore be a useful tool for employers as it will assist them in understanding what is legally expected of them when it comes to dealing with employees with mental health problems.

Employers need to be careful when it comes to mental health as some mental health problems may fall under the definition of disability that is contained in the Equality Act 2010. This would be where an employee has a mental health impairment that has a substantial, adverse and long-term impact on their ability to carry out day to day activities. If this criteria is met, the employee will be protected from discrimination, harassment and victimisation, and there would be a responsibility on the employer to make any necessary reasonable adjustments for the employee in question.

The new ACAS guidance includes a step by step approach on how employers should tackle mental health with the steps identified as follows:

  • Step 1 – Understand mental health. This section defines what mental health is together with the causes for mental health, the stigma around it and the employer’s legal obligations. Step 1 states that ‘staff supported by their employer are more likely to stay in work or return to work after a period of absence, reducing long term absences in the organisation’.
  • Step 2 – Make a commitment to improve mental health at work: This section recommends the ways in which an employer should demonstrate that they are committed to helping employees with mental health problems. It suggests that employers should consider developing action plans to change attitudes, create a mental health policy and ensure senior managers promote awareness of mental health to help remove the stigma surrounding it.
  • Step 3 – Identify ways to improve the workplace: This section looks at the ways an employer can tackle the work-related causes of mental health problems and provides a table containing the common causes and potential solutions to it. Step 3 also suggests that although staff should be encouraged to tell their manager about their mental health concerns, they might find it easier to discuss their personal situation with someone who is not their line manager. In these situations, an employer could assign other managers or work colleagues to be ‘mental health champions in the work place’. The guidance also suggests that an employer may also consider using external sources to provide the additional support together with trade unions and other employee representatives.
  • Step 4 – Educate the workforce about mental health: This section provides guidance on how to educate staff and train managers to deal with mental health. It states ‘that managers should keep in mind that they deal with physical ill health on a regular basis and they should approach mental health in a similar way in focussing on how to support the team member to continue working or return to work when they are ready’. This step also encourages employers to promote the need for employees to continue talking about mental health and provides examples on how an employer can promote this, such as team meetings, one to one meetings, noticeboards and informal chats around the workplace
  • Step 5 – Where to go for support: The final section provides employers and managers with further information on where they can go for additional support when dealing with employees suffering from mental health issues and supplies a number of links and relevant contact details of places offering this mental health support. The section also extends to employees who may feel that they need guidance from external support and provides details of services that an employee can take advantage of.

Now turning to the smaller online guides from ACAS, ‘Dealing with Stress in the Workplace’ ( provides details of the following:

  • the definition of stress;
  • the causes of stress
  • why employers should try to reduce the causes of stress;
  • spotting when staff may be experiencing stress;
  • talking to a team member who may be experiencing stress
  • supporting a team member experiencing stress; and
  • monitoring the situation.

The second smaller guide titled ‘Managing staff experiencing mental ill health’ ( provides details of the following:

  • the role of a manager;
  • spotting the signs of mental health;
  • encouraging staff to develop their own Wellness Action Plans;
  • talking to a team member who may be experiencing mental ill health;
  • managing a team member who may feel unable to talk;
  • supporting a team member during difficult periods of mental ill health;
  • supporting the rest of the team;
  • managing absence related to mental ill health;
  • helping a team member return to work; and
  • approaching potential disciplinary or capability matters

Following on from the new guidance tools released from ACAS in support of mental health awareness, a new independent review on how employers should manage and support employees with mental health has now been released titled ‘Thriving at Work – The Stevenson Farmer review of mental health and employers’ ( This new review provides 40 recommendations on how employers should deal with mental health in the workplace.

These new guidance tools that have been released are very useful for employers and will hopefully provide positive guidance for employers going forward. We have provided links to each document and recommend that you read them.

By Emily Jones

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