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Mental health and wellbeing: employers' responsibilities

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Supporting staff with their mental health and wellbeing is important and part of an employers’ duty of care. Use this page to help build your understanding and find useful resources to support your knowledge.

Understanding mental health and wellbeing

Mental health is our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel and act.

Wellbeing is how we feel about ourselves, our relationships and our lives. Together, mental health and wellbeing can affect:

  • how we handle stress
  • the choices we make
  • how we relate to others.

Our mental health and wellbeing aren’t static, they change and vary over time. Some things that can affect this are:

  • our circumstances, including past and present life events
  • the people in our lives and support networks
  • our cultural and social background as well as personal beliefs
  • our financial situation
  • availability and use of support services and networks
  • physical health.

You can find out more about what wellbeing means from What Works for Wellbeing, the UK’s independent body for wellbeing evidence, policy and practice.

Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace

Mental health issues are common in the workplace. In the UK, almost 1 in 7 people experience mental health problems at work. They also account for over 12% of all sickness absence days. Some common mental health issues are depression and anxiety.

Mind has more information about common mental health problems .

Positive mental health allows people to work productively, cope with stress and realise their full potential. It contributes to:

  • improved staff morale
  • better individual and team performance
  • job satisfaction.

While stress isn’t classed as a medical condition, it can still have a serious impact on wellbeing in the workplace. Long periods of stress can:

  • cause physical and mental symptoms
  • make existing mental health problems worse
  • lead to burnout, an occupational condition.

To learn more, use our guidance on managing stress in your organisation.

NCVO members can also download our editable sample stress policy.

Employers have a ‘duty of care’. This means you must do all you reasonably can to support the mental health, safety and wellbeing of your employees. This includes:

  • making sure the work environment is safe
  • protecting staff from discrimination
  • carrying out risk assessments.

Making sure the work environment is safe

Workers, volunteers and anyone that comes in contact with the organisation should be protected from anything that may cause harm.

The Health and Safety Executive has comprehensive information on how to ensure a safe working space.

Protecting staff from discrimination

Employers have a legal duty to protect staff from any form of discrimination related to protected characteristics. This includes a mental health problem if it’s recognised as a disability. A mental health issue can be considered a disability under the law if it:

  • has a ‘substantial adverse effect on the life of an employee’ and
  • lasts at least 12 months or is expected to and
  • affects their ability to do their normal day-to-day activities.

A mental health issue can be considered a disability even if someone doesn’t have symptoms all the time. Symptoms can also change in intensity and frequency over time. If an employee has a disability, employers:

For more information about protecting people from discrimination, read our guidance on the Equality Act and your legal duties.

Carrying out risk assessments

Employers have a duty under health and safety law to carry out risk assessments.

You can find more information about managing health and safety at work and carrying out risk assessments on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.

Recognising and responding to individual differences

Social factors and life experiences can also affect in what way, when and how much we experience mental health problems. Research from the Mental Health Foundation shows that some groups are more likely to develop mental health problems than others. These include:

  • people in financial difficulties
  • people who are discriminated against based on their race, gender and sexual orientation
  • LGBTQI+ people.

Mind has more information on diversity and mental health.

It’s important to learn about how different people and groups experience mental health and wellbeing and what you can do to support them.

Mental Health at Work has several toolkits to support individuals in these groups:

Further support

Last reviewed: 01 August 2022

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 01 August 2022

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