April is National Stress Awareness Month and the HSE has taken this opportunity to remind employers that they must take proactive steps to support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees

National Stress Awareness month provides all employers with an opportunity to take a step back and consider the ways in which they are, or should be, protecting their employees' mental health. Workplace stress is a substantial challenge for employers, with the HSE reporting that 875,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2022/23, with 17.1 million working days lost as a result.

There has undoubtedly been a societal shift in recent years, particularly since the coronavirus pandemic, with a greater focus on mental health and wellbeing and a far better understanding of the range of complex issues individuals can face. Society now expects a genuine focus on mental health from employers and it is no longer acceptable to treat these issues as being out with the scope of an employee's professional life. It is now readily accepted that the stresses an individual faces in their work life have a direct impact on their personal life, and vice versa.

Of course, even before this societal shift, the law imposed clear legal duties on employers, particularly in the context of health and safety law, to proactively consider their employees' mental health. Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 obliges employers "to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees" with this duty extending not only to the physical health of employees, but also their mental wellbeing. Employers are therefore required to put in place measures to reduce the risk to their employees' mental health to a level that is as low as reasonably practicable.

The scale of the mental health challenge facing all UK employers is both an ethical and legal issue. It should not take legislation to remind employers that supporting both the physical and mental well-being of employees is simply the right thing to do. However, for those who need support to fulfil their legal duties the HSE's Stress Awareness Month campaign, "Working Minds" provides helpful practical points to consider.

This campaign encourages employers to consider the 5 "R's" throughout the 5 weeks of April, to assist with the management of workplace-related stress. Employers are encouraged to:

  • Reach out to employees and have open conversations about mental health in a safe, non-judgemental environment, allowing employees to voice their concerns without experiencing stigma;
  • Recognise the signs and causes of stress and make use of the HSE stress risk assessment;
  • Respond to any risks that have been identified in the risk assessment and take proactive steps to manage employees' mental health;
  • Reflect on actions agreed and ensure that actions taken are adaptable to the wide range of individual circumstances and issues that employees may face; and
  • Make all of this Routine and an integral part of everyday life in their organisation.

One of the fundamental aspects of managing stress at work is carrying out a risk assessment. Not only should this consider the causes of stress at work and the ways that can be avoided, but it must also consider risks to work activity which arise as a consequence of a member of the team suffering from poor mental health. This is particularly important in hazardous operations where common symptoms of poor mental health, such as fatigue, lack of concentration and distraction, are key risk factors for workplace accidents.

The steps required to be taken by employers to manage stress in the workplace will vary depending on the industry and individual employees, as there is no one size fits all solution to protecting mental health. There are a variety of measures that employers can utilise, with some of the most common including the training of mental health first aiders, the provision of confidential counselling services and the management of rotas and shift patterns to support an individual's mental health needs and overall stress level.

National Stress Awareness month is an important reminder for everyone to look after their own and their colleagues' mental health and to speak up if they are experiencing undue levels of stress, whether that be at home or in the workplace. The HSE campaign is timely reminder to employers that they must take proactive steps to invest in the mental health and wellbeing of their employees and treat it is a key business and societal objective.

If you require any further information on this topic, please contact Malcolm Gunnyeon, Clare Bone or your usual Brodies contact.


Clare Bone

Partner & Solicitor Advocate

Hannah McMahon

Trainee Solicitor