The summer burn-out

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Many of you will be feeling refreshed and raring to go following a summer break. That means now is the perfect time to acknowledge the colleagues who picked up work to cover those holidays!

Unfortunately, it’s possible that not everyone enjoyed the summer as much as those of us who spent some time with our feet up on a beach in the sun.

The reduced level of personnel in the office can lead to a spike in workloads for those left behind in the office. We can all recognise that an increased workload can lead to increased stress and anxiety levels. Often, this phenomenon during or following the summer is referred to as mid-year or summer burn-out, and recent research published by Westfield Health indicated that a staggering 48% of all UK employees suffer with workplace stress or burnout during the summer months. It’s therefore vital that employers take stock at this time of year and are mindful of their employees’ mental health.

So, the obvious question is: what steps can employers take to address summer burn-out? We have set out two topical tips for employers to consider below.

  1. We need to talk about mental health conditions

Mental health conditions can not only have a negative impact on an employee’s general health and wellbeing, but can also affect their performance or attendance at work. It is therefore logical that an employer should take steps to support its employees. Unfortunately, despite the significant progress in awareness around mental health conditions over recent years, employees are often reluctant to discuss such issues given perceived negative connotations.

This can leave employers unsure as to how to deal with an employee who may have a mental health condition which would constitute a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010), but doesn’t want to talk about it.

This is effectively the situation the Respondent faced in the recent case of A Ltd v Z UKEAT/273/18.

The Claimant was dismissed due to poor time-keeping and attendance. She subsequently brought a claim of unlawful disability discrimination under section 15 of the EqA 2010 in the Employment Tribunal (ET). It transpired that she suffered from mental and psychiatric conditions (including stress and depression), but the Respondent had not been aware of these conditions.

Initially, her claim was successful in the ET. The ET concluded that, whilst the Respondent had no actual knowledge of the Claimant’s disability, the Respondent should have known there was an underlying issue affecting her performance, or should at least have made additional enquiries before dismissing her. The Respondent was therefore deemed to have “constructive knowledge” of her disability for the purposes of section 15(2) of the EqA 2010.

The Respondent appealed on the basis that the Claimant had not only failed to provide details of her disability, but had insisted that she was fit for work, and had refused any suggestion of an Occupational Health referral or other medical examination.

Ultimately, the Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed that these were exceptional circumstances. The Claimant had suppressed, and would have continued to supress, details about her mental health. Therefore, the Respondent could not have reasonably been expected to know the details. The Respondent’s appeal was therefore upheld.

However, this case shows that employers are expected to investigate thoroughly if an employee is underperforming and must be mindful of the impact mental health conditions can have on employees. This is a topic that should be treated sensitively, but must be spoken about and not brushed under the carpet. Failure to be aware of these sensitive issues could not only lead to a working relationship in which neither employee nor employer are happy, but can lead to the employer being deemed to have constructive knowledge of an employee’s mental health condition.

  1. Working outside the box can improve employees’ mental health

Employers should be conscious that the working environment can have an impact on their employees’ mental health. Many employers are always looking for ways in which to improve the working environment, and flexible working may be one such option.

A recent study of 115 companies conducted by Wildgoose Events Limited indicated that more than a third of workers who are entitled to participate in a flexible working scheme believe that being able to work flexibly has had a positive impact on their mental health. Further, 43% of those who did not have the option to work flexibly felt that having such a scheme introduced would enable them to better manage existing mental health conditions.

Whilst flexible working won’t be an option for all employers, it is clear that thinking and working outside the box can have a significant and positive impact on the mental health of employees. Management of mental health conditions involving all aspects of an employer’s culture, from management training, to appraisal arrangements, to working arrangements, and the pace of our physical work and working time arrangements will continue to be a hot topic over coming years. Therefore, for many large employers, being able to offer flexible and agile working arrangements is already a significant recruitment and retention tool.

Ultimately, our view is that employers should be more aware now than ever of the working environment and their employees’ mental health. An employer should always consider; could we reasonably do more to ensure we have a happy and healthy workforce?

For further information, help or advice please contact Chris Maddock on 0191 211 7897 or [email protected]