The Importance of Addressing Stress in the Workplace

In light of mental health awareness, the next two features give advice into how to cope with stress in the workplace. We hear from Kate Headley, the Director of Clear Company, who has given a short introduction and background into the importance of addressing stress and mental health, addressing the legal issues, for lawyers and employers alike.

Written by Kate Headley, Director of Clear Company

US web developer, Madalyn Parker, recently sparked debate about workplace attitudes to mental health after publically sharing the fact that her manager had supported her request for a mental health ‘sick day’. Commentators came out in droves, with many questioning if this should even be an issue in the 21st century, yet the reality is that many suspect that UK managers would not be similarly supportive – particularly within the legal sector.

According to Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey figures, last year Britons took 137 million sick days. Of these, 15.8 million were for stated mental health issues including stress, depression and anxiety as well as more serious conditions such as manic depression and schizophrenia.  A separate study by Happiness Works in March 2017 showed that nearly two-thirds of UK employees suffered from stress at work.

Looking at law specifically, a recent survey of associates and partners of the top 100 law firms by virtual outfit, Keystone Law, revealed, perhaps unsurprisingly, that almost 70% of lawyers believe they work in the most stressful profession. In a demanding sector where 12-hour shifts are the norm and all-nighters are not unheard of, professionals under pressure to get things done quickly are at greater risk of acquiring a mental health condition. But what does this mean for employees under pressure, and those managing them?

Legally, employers have a responsibility to support jobseekers and employees with protected characteristics, including mental health conditions which are defined as a disability, under the 2010 Equality Act. Individuals don’t have to have a specific mental health condition to get protection under the Act, rather demonstrate that their mental health has a substantial, adverse, and long term effect on their normal day-to-day activities. This includes conditions such as stress and anxiety.

Whereas physical challenges may be more ‘visible’, and as a result, more openly discussed both inside and out of the workplace, I think it is fair to say that there can still be a stigma attached to issues surrounding mental health. This may be because employers and HR teams lack understanding and, as a result, may be afraid of getting it ‘wrong’. However, it is worth bearing in mind that conditions such as anxiety, stress and depression are no less ‘manageable’ than many physical conditions.

Statistics from the charity, Mind, suggest that nearly 16 million people in the UK – around a quarter of the population – will experience some form of mental health event in any given year. But only a small proportion seem to feel confident enough to disclose this to employers or potential employers despite protection provided by the Equality Act. This is perhaps not surprising when one looks at the results of research carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions which found that less than half would want to employ someone with a mental health condition.

However, firms which are not supporting their employees in the way in which they are legally obliged to, risk not only comeback for non-compliance, but also haemorrhaging vital skills as disengaged staff take their expertise elsewhere.

A recent survey conducted by Comres for BBC Radio 5 live found that half of British adults in full-time work say they’d be unlikely to talk to their boss about problems such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. However, it is only through opening lines of communication that employees with mental health conditions can be supported.

Reasonable adjustments for candidates and employees with mental health conditions may include; support with managing workload, flexible hours to allow for periods of rest, a desk in a quiet area of the office to help manage anxiety, time off work to attend appointments or a little extra time to make decisions to help manage stress. Ultimately, no one is in a better position than the person living with a mental health condition to determine what support they need.

While the legal profession has long been afflicted by a deeply ingrained culture where high levels of stress are often viewed as ‘normal’, there are signs that things are changing. Last year, a cross-profession taskforce to promote and support mental health and wellbeing in the legal community, The Legal Professions Wellbeing Taskforce, was initiated by the Law Society and is driven by LawCare, a charity which provides support to the legal community.

As Jonathan Smithers, President of the Law Society, pointed out at the initiatives launch, “Law can be a demanding career. Many of us are drawn to the intellectual challenge and thrive on the high pressure our work entails, but with this high pressure can come stress. It is vital for legal professionals that there is greater awareness of the importance of mental health and greater openness to enable conversations about this issue.”

With the Mental Health Foundation recently finding that 86% of 2,000 individuals with mental health conditions agreed that their job and being at work is important to protecting and maintaining their mental health, learning how to ask for help, and recognise and support individuals with mental health conditions is imperative.

 

KATE HEADLEY

DIRECTOR OF CONSULTING

Clear Company

www.theclearcompany.co.uk

 

A nationally-recognised expert and auditor in diversity in recruitment, Kate works extensively with government & business in developing inclusive best practice.

She is a fully qualified HR professional who, following an early career in the private sector (Marks & Spencer) and the public sector (Manchester City Council) has spent over 15 years specialising in recruitment and diversity. Her passion and expertise in this area means that she is a sought-after speaker and advisor, helping to spread the word of the benefits of being diversity-confident to UK plc.

Kate is a key member of The Department of Work and Pensions Disability Employer Engagement Steering Group and is currently helping to create a platform for individual MPs to activate and support diversity best practice in their constituencies.

1 Comment
  1. I love it when people come together and share opinions, great blog, keep it up.

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