Mental health in the workplace is still a taboo subject in many organisations. Research by Mind shows that a culture of fear and silence around mental health is costly to employers. More than one in five employees admitted that they had called in sick to avoid work due to workplace stress, and 42% considered resigning when asked about how workplace stress affected them. Whether work is causing the issue or aggravating it, it’s an employer’s duty to ensure that their employees have the opportunity to address their mental health.
How to create a healthy working environment
It’s important to create a workplace where employees feel able to voice their ideas and are listened to. One way of doing this is to give employees more control over their role and involve them in broader decision-making related to the organisation’s direction of travel. This makes employees feel more committed to the goals of the company and shows them that their work is valued.
It’s also important to tackle the causes of mental health issues in the workplace. To help prevent workplace stress, give employees the chance to raise any issues they might have at an early stage. One-to-one meetings, mentoring or on-the-job training are all ways in which you can help build the relationship and trust for this to happen.
You may also want to offer employees additional support to help them deal with mental health issues. Small businesses can access the free Health for Work Adviceline service provided by the NHS occupational health services. There are also telehealth solutions available which allow employees to talk about their mental health with a doctor in a private space. Consider highlighting free tools to your employees or offering them counselling or telehealth solutions as part of their overall benefits package.
Benefits of a mental health break
A mental health break could be as simple as taking an hour to meditate or a day off from the stress of work. Taking a mental health break is important for recuperating and avoiding burnout, especially in stressful work environments. Without breaks, it increases the likelihood of employees reaching the stage of burnout when they feel they can no longer carry out their work, lack motivation and feel physically or emotionally exhausted. This occurs when employees have been exposed to prolonged stress and can be avoided by taking breaks. In turn, this helps boost employee motivation and their ability to carry out tasks efficiently.
Taking time off can also help to improve productivity. When employees take time off for their mental health, they are able to look at solutions to work issues with fresh eyes. Allowing the brain to rest can also improve decision-making and communication, essential skills in the workplace that can be affected by mental fatigue. Scientists studying brain scans have noted the brain to be most active and creative when we are idle. A relaxed mind allows employees to come up with better solutions. This shows how downtime not only boosts productivity but also creativity in the workplace.
Mental health has been shown to affect physical health in various ways. A 2017 study by researchers at University College London, Edinburgh University and the University of Sydney shows a link between symptoms of depression and anxiety and an increased risk of dying from cancer and the development of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease. This shows that taking a break for mental health can also help take care of your employees’ physical wellbeing.
Can employees take time off for mental health?
Fit notes, also known as sick notes, doctor's notes and meds, are certificates used to notify an employer, teacher or person in charge about being not fit for work. While many fit notes are used for physical conditions like having a bad back, they can also be used for mental health issues including depression, anxiety and work-related stress.
In the UK, more than half a million people are off sick from work every 28 months due to anxiety and stress-related conditions. Fit notes give employees the time they need to get better so they can start working again.
Recent NHS figures show that as many as one in three fit notes are due to psychiatric problems, making them the most common reason for people to take time off work, ahead of musculoskeletal diseases. Between 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, there was a 14% rise in the number of sick notes issued relating to anxiety and stress.
How can employees get a fit note?
To get a fit note for mental health problems, employees will need to have a consultation with a GP. While self-certification is permitted if an employee has been off sick for less than seven days, they will need a signed letter from a GP if they are sick for more than seven days. This includes days that the employee does not usually work such as weekends and bank holidays.
Sick notes are free on the NHS if you have been off work for more than seven days. If you have been off work for seven days or less, you will need to get a private sick note. Most private GP providers charge an additional fee for a sick note, although some providers will include it in the consultation fee.
Benefits of fit notes for employers
Fit notes benefit employers by allowing them to make adjustments to their workplace to reduce the costs of sickness absence. Fit notes include recommendations from a GP to help the employee return to work, including offering them flexible hours, support from a colleague in the short or long term, and a place where the employee can go for a break when needed. This can help employers to create a work environment where employees are at their healthiest and most productive. By addressing these changes, employers can help prevent future absence due to mental health and increase productivity in the workplace.
About the Author
Dr Zubair Ahmed is the Co-founder and CEO of Medicspot, a private GP service with the largest network of GP practices in the UK. Medicspot has over 100 locations across the UK offering same day appointments. With its unique on-site clinical station, Medicspot offers SMEs the best quality care at a market-disrupting price.