Putting mental health on your agenda

One in four of us will experience poor mental health at some stage in our lives, so it’s likely that someone in your business is affected.

Despite this, the Stevenson / Farmer review highlights that only 39% of organisations have policies or systems which can support employees with common mental health conditions and only 24% of managers have received relevant training.

This failure to address poor mental health costs employers between £33bn and £42bn per year - absenteeism costs £8bn, presenteeism costs between £17bn and £26bn and staff turnover costs £8bn.

Poor mental health is often preventable and recovery is possible in many cases, so here are some key steps to consider for your business:  

Promote an open door policy

It’s important to create a workplace culture where an employee feels that they can come and talk to their manager without being ridiculed or subjected to unfair treatment.

Endorse from the top

Ensure that your top managers openly promote the importance of mental health and encourage employees to seek support at work. This sends the message to employees that it’s something that is taken seriously.

Carry out return to work interviews

If an employee takes frequent, short-term absences, carrying out return to work interview is a good way to explore the reasons for the absence. If there are signs that that they are suffering from a mental health condition, you can consider what practical steps can be taken to assist the employee. Contact the British Sandwich Association Advisory Service for guidance.

You can ask the employee:

  • What was the reason for the absence?
  • If the absence was because of stress, ask them what may be causing that stress.
  • If the stress is caused by work, see whether or not it’s possible to alleviate that stress. For example, you could consider reducing the workload if that is an issue.
  • If the stress is caused by other factors, ask whether there is anything that you can do to help.

Watch out for the signs

You should be having regular one to one meetings with your employees to see how they are. By doing this, you may be able to pinpoint some key red flags, for example, you may notice they are smoking more, they are making uncharacteristic mistakes or they seem more withdrawn.

Of course, there are not obvious warning signs for all conditions, which is why it’s important to have frequent meetings to detect any concerns.

Tackle any issues that arise

You should talk to the employee in private, explaining what you have noticed and asking how they are feeling. This can help you understand what is going on and what the next appropriate steps are.

If they do reveal a mental health condition, you should delve into how the condition affects them and what adjustments you can provide to help them. It may be useful to create an action plan, which looks at what triggers the employee’s condition, how it can be minimised at work and what to do if they are unwell.

If they insist there is no problem, you should monitor the situation.

Remember the Equality Act!

A worker will be considered disabled under the Equality Act if they can show that they suffer from a long term physical or mental impairment which has a substantial effect on their ability to carry out day to day activities. In these cases, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to the worker’s working practices, policies and procedures.

Manage absences

If short term sickness evolves into longer term absence, it’s important to keep lines of communication open. Maintaining regular contact with the employee will keep you informed of their progress and whether there is anything you can do to assist them back to work, for example, a phased return. If a return does not look likely in the near future, plans can be made to put in place temporary cover.

However, while it’s important that the employee must not feel cut off by their manager, equally they should not feel harassed. If someone has anxiety or stress, you don’t want your contact to make their condition worse, so make sure you think about the nature of the contact and its urgency.

If mental health is being negatively affected by work, you need to explore with the employee how to prevent further absences.

Give training

Make sure to provide training to both your managers and employees to erode the stigma attached to mental health.

To explore this further, contact the British Sandwich Association Advisory Service on 0845 226 8393 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and quote “British Sandwich Association” and your membership number.

The information contained in this publication sets out both the legal requirements that food businesses are expected to comply with as well as good practice. However, it is industry guidance and does not necessarily cover everything that food businesses need to consider