Mental Health Awareness Week - How To Combat Stress In The Workplace

Published: 16/05/2018

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, encouraging all people in the UK to take steps towards improving their mental health - from minor stress to more major physiological problems. The week aims to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health, in the workplace, at school, in homes and in the wider community.

To coincide with the week, the Mental Health Foundation has also released some findings about the state of mental health in the common UK workplace. In a survey involving more than 4,500 participants, the charity found that millennials were the most stressed at work. It found that millennials – those aged between 18 and 38 – felt more under pressure at work than their baby boomer colleagues with more than a quarter (28 per cent) stating that working through stress was expected in their job. This is compared with just 12 per cent of those aged between 53 and 71.

Stress, particularly in the workplace, is the Mental Health Foundation’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2018. The common condition can lead to more serious mental health problems and negatively affect a person’s health in many ways. It also results in lower productivity in the workplace.

Let’s look at the law and how it relates to mental health at work. What are your rights as an employee? Can I take a ‘mental health day’? Here’s our legal advice...

What’s the law? Am I allowed to take days off if I’m not feeling up to work?

There is no doubt that you are allowed to take time off work if you are unwell. This is granted to employees by law. In many cases, you will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and/or company sick pay (additional or more generous sick pay that your employer may choose to give you). To qualify, you should follow the policy your employer has given you about ‘calling in sick’ such as who to notify, when and how. If you have been off work sick for more than seven days, you will need to get an official Statement of Fitness to Work ('fit note') from a GP or the doctor that treated you. It’s possible that you will have a ‘back to work’ assessment once you return and potentially fill out a form for your HR department.

But I don’t have the flu! Does this include “mental health days”?

Mental health conditions, by law at present, fall under the category of a ‘disability’. So while you may not think of yourself as disabled, disability legislation applies to people with conditions such as depression, as well as cancer, MS and HIV, so the definition is broad.

Under this law, yes – you are allowed to take days off if you are impacted by a mental health issues. Some employers may regard this as a ‘sick day’. Others might have a separate ‘disability leave’ record, enabling you more time to recover. Either way, you will be entitled to statutory sick pay or maybe more generous pay outlined by your workplace’s scheme.

Do I need to disclose details of my mental health struggles to my employer?

Generally speaking, you don’t have to tell your boss why you are off. However, your work may have a policy wherein you need to divulge some details to HR. This is probably in your best interest anyway.

In this way, you can be given the support you need by your HR department, in a confidential and sensitive manner.

Can I be fired for taking ‘mental health days’?

No, this shouldn’t happen.

By law, your employer cannot discriminate against you because you are impaired by any condition that affects your day-to-day responsibilities.

Your employer should keep your job open for you, should not pressure you to resign, and try to make reasonable adjustments (e.g. flexible working hours or conditions e.g. so you can attend appointments) to help you.

I’ve been fired because of I’ve taken time off to deal with my mental health. What should I do?

If you feel you have been the victim of unfair dismissal as a consequence of taking days off for sickness, you can take your case to an employment tribunal. You normally have two years to do this. is the best source of information about the process you’ll need to follow.

Ways to combat mental health problems and stress in the workplace

Despite technically, by law, being able to take ‘mental health days’ if you genuinely need them, many workplaces continue to be plagued by a stigma surrounding the issue.

Many employees claim they don’t feel HR takes their struggles seriously or that colleagues think they are ‘faking’ sick days or don’t deserve them.

Some suggestions for tackling the stigma include:

  1. Speaking up
    If you feel mental health isn’t being treated as a serious issue in your workplace, the only way attitudes can start to change is by talking about it. Talking to your colleagues, supervisors and management can really help you, and others, in the long-run – even if it is very difficult at first.
  2. Get involved in good causes
    If you workplace supports charitable causes, why not suggest a mental health charity be their next one? At GWlegal for example, staff’s charitable efforts are shared via email, on the intranet and publicised externally, whereas individual staff members can also propose company-wide charity events (e.g. bake sales) to support causes they feel passionate about. This can be a great way to get people talking about, for example, the support needed for people with mental health issues.
  3. Create a healthy working environment
    If you are an employer, there are a number of steps you can take to make the workplace a better place for everyone. Perhaps allow staff the occasional time off to take part in an activity or charitable cause together. Lighten the mood with casual Fridays. Encourage people to cycle to work and introduce lunchtime yoga sessions.

You can also join up to a number of national initiatives such as Time For Change – employers sign a ‘pledge’ online to actively address discrimination – or Taking Care of Business, a campaign that highlights the benefits.

Better working practices at GWlegal

Some of the measures in place to make GWlegal a less stressful and more enjoyable workplace include:

  • Flexitime. Our employees, where logistically possible, are allowed to alter their working hours and sometimes work from home to find a better work-life balance. Indeed, some of our employees work from as far away as Northern Ireland! We even have regular freelancer (former full-time staff member) based in Italy.
  • Fun activities.Staff are encouraged to take part in a range of social activities outside of work. Recently, teams climbed Mount Snowdon together for charity. Ping pong competitions are also a favourite pastime for Team GW.
  • Open communication with managers and HR. All employees catch up with their managers on a very regular basis and are encouraged to speak with HR, should they have any concerns at all.
  • Workplace perks. Free coffee, a funky New York-style kitchen and relaxed meeting pods are just some of the perks of working in the GW office.

About GWlegal

We offer the everyday legal services you require to move smoothly through each stage of life’s journey. Property law when purchasing your first home. Equity release when you are ready to retire. Financial Claims or personal injury services when something goes wrong. Will writing and estate planning to protect you and your loved ones.

If you have a legal matter you wish to discuss don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can call us on 0345 373 3737 or email us with your question.

Who are GWlegal? We’re a national firm with local values.

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Content correct at time of publication.
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