The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has published new advice for employers on making reasonable work adjustments for mental health, which includes guidance for line managers on how best to support employees who make requests.
To complement the advice, Acas has also published a number of case studies that explore how different organisations across the economy have supported their staff by making these important interventions.
As the advice explains, reasonable work adjustments are changes an employer makes to remove or reduce a disadvantage related to an individual’s disability.
Disability is defined as a mental or physical impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to undertake their day-to-day activities, says Acas.
Although some individuals may not recognise that their mental health condition falls under the definition of a disability, Acas advises employers that they need to be aware that this could be the case.
Acas also advises that employers should try to make reasonable adjustments even if the issue is not a disability. Often, simple changes to a person's working arrangements or responsibilities could be enough to help them stay in work and work well, it explains.
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are legally required to make reasonable adjustments for workers, contractors and self-employed people hired to personally do the work, and job applicants.
Employers are required to make this intervention when:
- They know, or could reasonably be expected to know, someone is disabled.
- A disabled staff member or job applicant asks for adjustments.
- Someone who is disabled is having difficulty with any part of their job.
- Someone’s absence record, sickness record or delay in returning to work is because of, or linked to, their disability.
As line managers have a critical role in providing employees with access to reasonable work adjustments, Acas’ advice explains how they can support an individual who makes a request.
The new advice suggests that managers:
- Check in with the individual, for example, by asking how they are and if they need help.
- Recognise changes in behaviour.
- Try to understand how their mental health impacts them.
- Understand that adjustments might not work the first time and might need to change over time.
- Be flexible in their approach and respond to changing needs.
- Show ongoing support because mental health fluctuates over time and adjustments may need to be in place for days, weeks, months or sometimes years.
- Consider the needs of the employee and the team in case anything needs to change.
- Know when to ask for help from others, such as other senior leaders or someone from HR or occupational health.
The advice for line managers explains what they can do to help employees look after their own mental health at work. In addition, it outlines what managers should do to help an employee who has made a request for reasonable adjustments understand what they can expect from a meeting.
As Acas explains, reasonable adjustments might not work immediately so it is important for managers to allow time for the changes to take place. It advises managers to monitor how the adjustments are impacting on the employee, others they work with and work priorities; review the reasonable adjustments as agreed; and arrange regular check-ins with the employee.
The wider package also covers examples of the types of reasonable adjustments that can be made, advice for employees on how to request them and what the employer can do to support any adjustments that are required.
There is also a section on reviewing policies with mental health in mind. As Acas notes, many organisations have absence and reasonable adjustments policies in place. Even so, it advises employers to review what they already have in place to make sure that it is suitable for employees with mental health problems.
This section includes a handy list of points to consider when reviewing policies. It also outlines the benefits of having a reasonable adjustment policy in place and what it should include. Acas provides information for employers that currently have no policy in place.
Readers may also be interested in five practical case studies that explore how Civil Service organisations, a local authority, an NHS integrated care system and legal firm have all taken different approaches to the provision of reasonable adjustments for mental health and the benefits these interventions have brought particular individuals or the wider workforce.
Francoise Woolley, Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing for Acas, said: ‘We wanted to develop this new guidance because in our experience many managers find it difficult to know where to start and how to have conversations on workplace adjustments for mental health. We hope this practical advice, as well as the good practice case studies will also help employers, managers and employees to understand the range of possibilities open to them to create more inclusive workplaces where employees feel supported and can perform at their best.’
Dr Jo Yarker, Managing Partner of Affinity Health at Work, who were commissioned to support this work, added: ‘Long-term sickness rates have hit a record high. ONS data has shown that 2.55 million people of working age are absent from the workforce because of long-term sickness.
‘We must do more to support people to stay in work, and to return to work. Identifying and putting in place reasonable adjustments to support mental health at work is an important part of this. Our research shows that small changes can make a big difference to whether someone can stay in and thrive in work.’