Creating a Culture of Support: Implementing Mental Health Leave Policies

6 January 2023

mental health leave

Studies have shown that mental health problems can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and high turnover rates. You need to support employees' mental health to increase productivity, retention, and recruitment. One way to do this is to implement mental health leave policies. 

What is a Mental Health Leave of Absence?

Leave for mental health, also known as psychological leave, is the time an employee takes off from work to address mental health concerns. They may use this time for mental health treatment, therapy sessions, or any other activity that promotes their mental well-being. 

An employee can take psychological leave in full or part-time, with the length of their leave depending on their needs. This is usually unpaid time since the employees do not perform their duties. However, depending on your company’s mental health policies, you may provide payment or other benefits during the leave period.

Addressing mental health concerns in the workplace is increasingly recognised as a crucial component of a comprehensive employee benefits package, as it has numerous benefits for both employees and the organisation. Additionally, it can help reduce the stigma, encouraging employees to seek support when needed and creating a culture of support and open communication.

Identifying Mental Health Issues Among Employees

Mental health issues can affect employees from any department and profession and are challenging to detect. They are especially common in people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. However, you can tell if an employee is struggling with these issues if you observe any of the following physical symptoms: 

  • Changes in behaviour: Look for changes in an employee's behaviour, such as increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, or changes in their demeanour.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Mental illnesses can lead to difficulty focusing and concentrating, impacting an employee's ability to complete tasks and meet deadlines.
  • Mood changes: Watch for changes in an employee's mood, such as increased irritability or sadness.
  • Withdrawal from social activities: If an employee begins to withdraw from social activities or seems isolated, this may be a sign of a mental health issue.

If you note any of these signs, you should approach the employee with sensitivity and compassion. Show your concern for their mental health by encouraging open communication and support. 

Understanding the Medical Leave Act

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The Equality Act 2010 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 protect employees from discrimination based on their mental health and require employers to take steps to protect the health and safety of their employees.

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees based on their mental health, including by not offering them the same opportunities as other employees or by subjecting them to less favourable treatment. This includes the right to take sick days to address mental health concerns.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to assess and manage risks to the health and safety of their employees, including risks related to mental illnesses. This includes providing support and resources for employees struggling with mental illness and preventing work-related stress and other mental concerns.

In addition to the medical leave act,  the government has introduced the Mental Health at Work Plan, which aims to improve mental health in the workplace and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. The plan includes a range of initiatives, such as training managers to support employees with mental illness and developing a new mental health standard for employers.

Following these laws, dismissing an employee is illegal if they are on stress leave. Such an employee may file a claim for unfair dismissal. Therefore, you must consult with the HR department or seek legal advice before taking action related to an employee on psychological leave. 

Steps for Implementing Mental Health Condition Policies

Implementing mental health policies is vital for supporting employees' mental well-being and creating a positive environment

The policies ensure that employees have the resources and support to manage their mental health and address any issues that may arise. They also help create a culture of support and open communication around mental illness. In addition, mental health policies help you meet your legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Some of the steps to consider when implementing mental health policies in your organisation include the following:

  1. Consult with employees and relevant stakeholders: Involving employees and relevant stakeholders in developing and implementing mental health policies ensures that the policies are appropriate, relevant, and responsive to your organisation's needs.
  2. Develop clear guidelines and procedures for requesting and taking leave: Setting clear guidelines and procedures for employees requesting and taking mental health leave ensures that the process is fair and consistent. It also makes employees feel supported and empowered to take the time necessary to address their mental well-being.
  3. Provide resources and support for employees on leave: It's essential to provide resources and support for those on leave for mental health. The support can include access to counselling services, therapy resources, and other support systems to help employees manage their mental health.
  4. Communicate the company policy to all employees and management: Communicating the mental health policy to all employees and management ensures everyone knows the guideline and how to access available resources and support.

By following these steps, you can create a supportive and inclusive environment that promotes mental well-being for all employees.

Challenges Possible When Managing Psychological Leave

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Managing psychological health leave can be challenging, particularly if you are not well-prepared or don’t have appropriate policies and resources. Some of the challenges you may face when managing these types of leave include:

Maintaining Confidentiality and Privacy

Respecting the confidentiality and privacy of employees on psychological health leave is essential. However, this can be challenging if you run a smaller organisation where it is harder to keep information confidential. In such cases, it may be necessary to implement additional measures to protect the privacy of these employees.

You may also find it challenging to manage the flow of information about employees on this type of leave, particularly if the leave is extended or if the employee is absent for an extended time. You can overcome this by providing additional training and resources to ensure that all employees know the importance of maintaining confidentiality and privacy.

Supporting Employee Who Return from Leave

Employees returning from leave for mental health may need additional support and accommodations to transition back to work, such as a phased return, flexible work arrangements, or ongoing support and resources. You may also find it challenging to manage their workload, especially if the employee had an extended leave or was absent for an extended period. 

In such cases, it may be necessary to create a work shift to redistribute the employee's workload or provide additional support to ensure that they can catch up and get back on track.

Managing the Cost of Leave

Mental health leave can be costly, especially if the leave is extended or if multiple employees are on leave simultaneously. If that's the case, you may need to pay for temporary staff or overtime to cover the workload of employees on leave, which can impact the budget. In addition, the leave can lead to decreased productivity and increased absenteeism, which can financially impact the organisation. It may also be challenging to balance the need to support employees on leave for mental health with the need to manage costs.

You can overcome cost challenges by finding a balance between providing the necessary support and resources for employees on leave and being mindful of the budget.

Using Technology to Manage Employee Psychological Health Leave

Managing the psychological health leave of your employees can be challenging since you need to create a positive and supportive environment that promotes mental health and well-being for all employees while managing the costs. Fortunately, you can use technology to streamline the mental health leave process by tracking and managing leave, providing support and resources to employees, and maintaining productivity.

An employee scheduling and time registration tool, such as Shiftbase, can help you:

  • Streamline the leave request and approval by automating the process of requesting and approving mental health leave, which can save time and reduce the administrative burden.
  • Track leave and attendance, including tracking the duration of leave and the impact on attendance and productivity. You can use this information to understand better the impact of mental health issues on the workforce and identify patterns or trends.
  • Provide resources and support for employees on mental health leave, such as access to counselling services or mental health resources. This information can help you provide support to employees and promote their well-being.
  • Manage workload and schedule during periods of mental health leave, including redistributing workload and coordinating temporary staff or overtime. This can help you maintain productivity and minimise disruptions during periods of leave.

Final Thoughts

Mental health leave is a critical aspect of supporting the well-being of employees and creating a positive work environment. By implementing mental health policies and using technology to manage leave, you can support employees on leave and create a culture of support and open communication around employee’s mental health conditions. While there may be challenges in managing psychological health leave, you can create a supportive environment that promotes all employees' mental health and well-being by proactively addressing these challenges.

If you want to improve how you manage employee mental health leave and create a supportive work setting, we encourage you to try Shiftbase. Our tool can help automate requesting and approving mental health leave, tracking and managing leave, and managing workload and scheduling. 

With Shiftbase, you can streamline processes, support the well-being of your employees, and maintain productivity. Sign up for a free trial and see how it can help your organisation manage employee mental health leave.

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