Why You Might Need Mental Health First Aid…

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06 Dec 2018

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Bosses of 50 leading British businesses have called on Theresa May to make ‘mental health first aid’ mandatory in the workplace. Here’s what this could mean for your business…

One in three sick notes written by UK GPs are now for mental health problems. And that presents a huge challenge for your business.

Poor workplace mental health leads to unhappy, unproductive employees and long-term sick leave. And if you’re not taking steps to prevent workplace stress, you could be in breach of HSE regulations.

For the UK economy as a whole, work-related stress, depression, and anxiety is costing £35 billion a year.

That’s why bosses of 50 British businesses signed an open letter to Theresa May to suggest a solution to the looming mental health crisis:

Bring mental and physical health & safety laws onto an equal footing, and make it mandatory for businesses like yours to appoint a mental health first aider.

But what is mental health first aid? And what are your duties to protect mental health in the workplace?

What is mental health first aid?

Your regular first aiders provide immediate treatment to injured employees. Mental health first aid works in the same way.

But rather than learning to dress a wound or give CPR, mental health first aid tackles stress, depression and anxiety. 

The first aider spots early signs that their colleagues are suffering from mental health issues, and provides advice to prevent serious harm and long-term sickness. 

Unlike physical first aid, there’s no law to appoint a mental health first aider. So you’re free to decide if it’s right for your business.

But when it comes to workplace wellbeing, there’s one thing that you do need to bear in mind…

You need to protect your staff’s mental health

The HSE says that:

“Whether work is causing health issues or aggravating them, employers have a legal responsibility to support their employees.”

This means that your health & safety risk assessments should cover all causes of workplace stress.

Some mental health risks may come with your employees’ roles. Possible causes of poor mental health include excessive travel, shift work or overtime.

Other risks are due to your business culture. Heavy workloads, unachievable goals or bullying behaviour all impact wellbeing.

You also need to think about issues affecting specific people, such as bereavement, personal problems and existing mental health conditions.       

Whatever the risks, take steps to remove or reduce them as far as possible. It will keep you on the right side of the law, but also…

Happy workers make better workers

According to the letter sent to Theresa May:

"…in the long run, it is inevitable that making mental health first aid in the workplace mandatory will save money."

Investing in employee wellbeing can have a huge impact on your business.

Many studies link employee happiness to productivity. One study even found that happy employees are a whopping 20% more productive than unhappy ones.

Which is why so many leading UK businesses choose to manage mental health across their workforces.

One such business is Thames Water. Thames has reduced work-related stress, anxiety and depression by 75% over the past 5 years, and points to its mental health first aid scheme as part of this success.

But first aid isn’t the only option. Even minor changes to working conditions have a positive impact. For example, offering flexible working or more face-to-face time with managers are simple ways to improve employee wellbeing.

So, what should I do next?

Make sure your policies and processes for managing mental health at work stand up to scrutiny.

Not taking reasonable steps to manage workplace stress can make life hard for you. It impacts productivity and leaves you exposed to prosecution if you ever face an employee dispute or a tribunal.

The UK Government’s ‘Thriving at work’ report is a useful reference on best practice for good mental health in the workplace. Although, at 84 pages long you might need to block out your bed-time reading over the next month to digest it.   

If you’re considering mental health first aid, then many providers offer training for UK businesses. But first, put in the time to understand what mental health risks your business faces. Then, do your due diligence to make sure that mental first aid is the right option to overcome them. 

Or you can call us. Our UK-based occupational health & safety experts help you review the real risks to your staff. Then, we give practical actions for you to take to boost their wellbeing.

Don’t wait for new regulations to define your workplace culture

Contact us today for a FREE consultation on how to protect your business and get the best from your staff. Call 01455 858 132

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