Bristol Business Blog: Ian Manners, head of business risk & regulation, Ashfords. Supporting mental health in the workplace

May 12, 2022

It is an unfortunate truth that within our working lives, many of us will experience stress at work. The pandemic has amplified what was already a problem and mental health problems are now one of the leading causes of sickness absence in the UK.

In 2020/2021 the Health and Safety Executive estimated that 822,000 UK workers suffered from work-related stress, or anxiety, accounting for 50% of all work-related ill health. An estimated 449,000 reported that this was caused or made worse by the effects of the pandemic. 

Employers, of course, have a legal duty to do all that is reasonably practicable to look after their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing – covering all aspects of an individual’s health, both physical and psychological. And, although historically neglected by regulators, this is an area facing increasing attention.

The introduction of ISO 45003 in June 2021 is part of that attention and is a welcome and timely development. While there are plenty of guidelines about the physical aspects of health & safety, there has been limited help for organisations looking to support their employees’ mental wellbeing.

ISO 45003 is the first global standard to provide guidance for managing psychosocial risks in the workplace. It is a structured framework that helps organisations to identify and manage risks, gives examples of the negative symptoms that risks can trigger and then how to manage and eliminate them.

Although ISO 45003 is voluntary, it is a great starting point for managing psychological health & safety at work. Creating a psychologically safe workplace is not only the right thing to do but is also something that can generate real financial benefits – Deloitte research suggests an average return on well-being investment of £5 for every £1 spent.

During Mental Health Awareness Week it’s clear to see how important wellness and mental health is to employees – just take a look at the numerous posts on LinkedIn. And, there are an array of approaches and tools available to enable employers to provide support from psychological risk assessments to identify hazards to training to support home workers where mental health issues are more difficult to spot and support.

As a lawyer I’ll also point to some of the legal considerations. Not only the obligations under the Health & Safety at Work Act but also compliance with the data protection issues around activities to support employees with their health & wellbeing.

Like many organisations, employee wellbeing is an integral part of Ashfords’ strategy and we are continually looking at what we can do better. We recently rolled out a free subscription to the Headspace App for all employees – a science-backed meditation and mindfulness tool designed to help people ‘stress less, focus more and sleep better’, which is proving popular.

Prioritising mental health is a challenge for all organisations and ISO 45003 can be a useful tool for employers wherever you are on the journey. Perhaps the end of Mental Health Awareness Week is a useful point to reflect on what we are doing and what we can learn from the official guidance and each other to do more.

If you would like more information in relation to health & safety in the workplace or regulatory risks more generally, please get in touch

Ian Manners is head of business risk & regulation at UK law firm Ashfords

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