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Equality at work: staying within the law

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New Mental Health Charter launched

Mental Health Charter

Equality Commission launches new Mental health Charter.
Blog article by Dr Evelyn Collins CBE, the Equality Commission NI

Proper management of employee mental health leads to improved attendance, decreased costs, increased productivity - and it costs less than absence.

Dr Evelyn Collins CBEThe prevalence of enduring mental illness is an increasing area of concern for society, and therefore it has to be a concern for employers too. A report issued by Business in the Community in October 2016 said that almost one third [29%] of people currently working have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

Mental ill health is the most common cause of absence in the public sector and the second most common across the workforce as a whole.

The Commission and its partners have launched a new Mental Health Charter, through which employers can make a voluntary commitment to say: “This organisation is committed to its employees, and to helping them through difficult times.”

The Charter is not an accreditation, an award or a quality standard. It’s a signal that the organisation plans to work towards a better understanding of mental health issues and how they impact on individuals and, through them, on the workforce – and to commit to action.

Our partners in the Charter, Action Mental Health, Change Your Mind, Disability Action, Foundation for Mental Health, Mindwise and Niamh (now Inspire), have an unrivalled breadth of experience and knowledge to add to what the Commission can offer.

Business case

Our advice services are free and confidential to employers – we can advise on managing issues around sickness absence due to disability at work and give practical advice on how to make sure that an employee is treated properly, with fairness and respect, and within the law.

Our partners in this initiative offer a range of services, some of which do carry a cost. But think about this: The most recent Labour Force Survey showed a total of 9.9 million working days in 2014-15 lost to stress, depression or anxiety. Stress accounted for 35% of all work related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health.

So aside from the moral arguments about treating people fairly, with dignity and respect, there are the issues of finance and productivity to consider. The cost of providing mental health support to staff is less than meeting the costs of their absence.

The Business in the Community report highlighted that managers indicate the most useful tool to help them in supporting employees at work would be online information and guidance (54%), followed conditions (49%) and senior leaders being more supportive of employees’ wellbeing (42%). They’re followed by a list of other useful suggestions too. The Commission and our partners in this Charter are a rich source of advice and help in making a start.

If you have not yet signed the Mental Health Charter, please visit our website to find out more – and sign!

Posted on 01 Mar 2017 by Evelyn Collins CBE