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Health and Wellbeing at Work

Reasonable Adjustments for Mental Health: Supporting Good Mental Health in the Workplace

ACAS Stand: 217

Gill Wootton – Acas Business Solutions Trainer

I have 20 years’ experience working with organisations to help them find solutions to their workplace challenges and what I have recently observed is an increase in people reporting mental health concerns in the workplace. I’m also seeing organisations across UK increasingly recognising the importance of supporting positive attitudes about mental health in the workplace. Employers recognise mental ill health is the biggest workplace concern regarding absence and performance. The importance of creating a supportive environment and prioritising mental health is more critical than ever.

In my role as an Acas trainer, I have seen first-hand the effort and commitment organisations are making to upskill managers to influence a culture to talk about mental health in the workplace and the confidence to discuss reasonable adjustments. However, for such efforts to be properly effective, they need to be supported by broader organisational strategies that encourages fundamental cultural change around employers’ obligation regarding reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act and confidence to initiate conversations in the workplace.

When I’m training managers in reasonable adjustments two themes emerge: ‘What is a reasonable adjustment’ and ‘the confidence to talk to employees about work and health’. Often perceived as ‘nice to have’ skills in workplace learning priorities yet key to effective mental health conversations.  Managers are influential in creating this culture which leads to more open and honest conversations and by demonstrating their actions. For example, building healthy habits such showing the business prioritise a healthy work-life balance, by taking your annual leave and actively encouraging others to do so or, being seen to take a break during work and making time for social conversations will send a clear message to others.

These may seem simplistic however experience tells me it’s challenging to put in place when managing people and workloads. Poor mental health is associated with increased absenteeism and increased presenteeism. Both are concerns for employers when considering resource and output as mental ill health is one of the highest contributing factors to long term sickness and predicted to increase.  

When working with employers about reasonable adjustments I think it’s important to consider Mental health problems can happen suddenly or build up over a period of time, fluctuate, and impact everyone in different ways.

For employers discussing reasonable adjustments its helpful to remember that everyone is different, so an adjustment for one person might not work for someone else. Because mental Health can fluctuate over time, what works for an employee now might not work in the future. Often, simple changes to a person's working arrangements or responsibilities could be enough to help them stay in work and work well.

I will be talking about reasonable adjustments for mental health and the practical measures employers can take at the Health & Wellbeing at Work conference on Tuesday 12th, 09:15-09:45. I look forward to seeing you there and will be around for questions after.

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