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  • International Workplace
  • 11 April 2017
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Mental health at work: what is a ‘reasonable adjustment’?

Opening up about mental health is the topic of the moment, with the Royal Family backing campaigns to get people talking to each other about their problems. In the workplace, that conversation between employer and employee is significant and the employee needs to feel fully supported moving on from there.

Once that dialogue has been opened, taking action to make any necessary adjustments to support the employee to cope and recover is vital.  

“These steps are generally quite small and involve simple adjustments to someone’s job role or extra support from their manager,” says Mind in its guide ‘How to support staff  who are experiencing  a mental health problem’. “Often the necessary change is one of attitude, expectations or communication – rather than a major change or significant cost. However, effective steps tend to be very individual. For this reason, it’s vital you have a meaningful conversation with your employee about their needs and really listen to them…

“In some cases, people may be unable to identify appropriate adjustments themselves so you may need to try some out. The best approach here is to decide on positive action and regularly monitor and review this to check it’s working, further tweaking the approach if necessary.”

Potential workplace adjustments (temporary or permanent) identified by Mind include:

  • Flexible hours or change to start/finish time. For shift workers not working nights or splitting up their days off to break up the working week can also help.
  • Change of workspace – e.g. quieter, more/ less busy, dividing screens.
  • Working from home (although it’s important to have regular phone catch ups so people remain connected and don’t feel isolated).
  • Changes to break times.
  • Provision of quiet rooms.
  • Light-box or seat with more natural light for someone with seasonal depression.
  • Return-to-work policies e.g. phased return – reduced hours gradually building up.
  • Relaxing absence rules and limits for those with disability-related sickness absence.
  • Agreement to give an employee leave at short notice and time off for appointments related to their mental health, such as therapy and counselling.
  • Reallocation of some tasks or changes to people’s job description and duties.
  • Redeployment to a more suitable role.
  • Training and support to apply for vacancies and secondments in other departments.

If an employee requires extra support, Mind suggests:

  • Increased supervision or support from manager. For example, some people can take on too much so may need their manager to monitor their workload to prevent this and ensure they’re working sensible hours.
  • Extra training, coaching or mentoring.
  • Extra help with managing and negotiating workload.
  • More positive and constructive feedback.
  • Debriefing sessions after difficult calls, customers or tasks.
  • Mentor or ‘buddy’ systems (formal or informal).
  • Mediation can help if there are difficulties between colleagues.
  • Mental health support group or disability network group.
  • Self-referral to internal support available.
  • Identifying a ‘safe space’ in the workplace where the person can have some time out, contact their buddy or other sources of support and access self-help.
  • Provision of self-help information and sharing approaches and adjustments that have proven effective at supporting others.
  • Encourage people to work on building up their resilience and doing things that support good mental health such as exercise, meditation or eating healthily.
  • Encourage people to be more aware of their mental state and reflect on what factors affect it in the workplace.
  • Provide regular opportunities to discuss, review and reflect on people’s positive achievements – this can help people to build up positive self-esteem and develop skills to better manage their triggers for poor mental health.

Making reasonable adjustments for an employee who is at a major disadvantage compared to others who do not have a mental health problem is a duty under The Equality Act. Employers are also subject to a variety of legal obligations in respect of their employees’ health and wellbeing. These obligations arise from health and safety legislation, the breach of which is a criminal offence, and also from the law of negligence, contract and discrimination. Injury to an employee’s mental health is treated by the law in the same way as injury to physical health.

Mind has recently launched its Workplace Wellbeing Index , which is designed to help employers find out where they are doing well and where they could improve their approach to mental health in the workplace.