Mental health matters - the importance of understanding stress of your workforce

18 January 2019
To be an employer of choice and retain the best staff it is crucial that employers recognise the importance of the mental wellbeing of their entire workforce and not just for those employees who are already receiving help.

It can be hard to talk about mental health. No one likes to admit that they are struggling and so it is important that employers understand their legal obligations and make this conversation as easy as possible. Aside from unhappy staff, if you ignore mental health issues, you may find yourself in front of an employment tribunal.

In the case of Sheikholeslami v University of Edinburgh, Professor Sheikholeslami was diagnosed with work-related stress and depression and was absent from work from January 2010. After a year she said she wanted to return to work and asked to be moved to different School within the University. She suggested this move because, in April 2010, she had raised a grievance against the School for sex discrimination and felt that if she were to return to the same School her colleagues may be hostile towards her.

In 2012, the University dismissed Professor Sheikholeslami because she would not return to work at the School of Engineering and said that they had no options for extending her work permit.

The Employment Tribunal found that Professor Sheikholeslami’s refusal to return to work was not because of her disability but because she was concerned her colleagues would be hostile towards her. However, on 5 October 2018, the Scottish Employment Appeal Tribunal (SEAT) handed down its decision and held that her disability might have caused her to experience anxiety and stress because of potential hostility she might experience if she were to return to the School. The Scottish Employment Appeal Tribunal (“SEAT”) found that this meant that Professor Sheikholeslami's disability could be linked to her refusal to return to work.

The importance of understanding stress

Here’s the word of warning – on appeal the EAT held that disability need only be one loose link in the chain of ultimate consequences when determining whether unfavourable treatment arises because of a disability. Employers must therefore take care to consider even the very subtle effects of an employee’s disability as there is an increasing risk that tribunals will link decisions made or actions taken to an employee's disability.

Businesses nationwide are beginning to adopt practices to increase the wellbeing of their staff in order to get the most from their organisation.  In fact, in 2018 CIPD reported that the proportion of employers raising awareness of mental health across the workforce has increased from 31% in 2016 to 51% in 2018.

Why the epiphany? It may be because poor mental health reportedly costs UK employers £33bn-£42bn each year. According to a recent Government Labour Force Survey in 2017/18, 15.4million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety[3].

Employee wellness programmes

Alongside performance management specialists, our employment and HR experts are proud to offer uniquely tailored wellness programmes that can cover the following key areas:

  • Knowledge and education for directors and senior managers on the company’s legal obligations and how stress impacts employees and in turn the business.
  • Training for managers to spot the early warning signs of employee stress and anxiety and support team members. 
  • Accessible group staff sessions exploring the way our minds work, why stresses build up in modern life and most importantly, how to deal with those stressors.
  • Support and training for mental wellbeing first aiders within your business.

To arrange a free call or meeting to discuss how we can assist you please contact us.


Mental Wellbeing at work



Author: Victoria McMeel