With at least one in six workers experiencing common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression, mental health is moving higher up the agenda for many employers.
To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week in May, Mishcon de Reya hosted an event focused on mediation and mental health issues in the workplace - Mediation Matters: Addressing Mental Wellbeing Issues in the Workplace. It was run by CEDR (the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution), who are set up to provide and train on conflict management and resolution, which is widely known for their mediation services.
The event was attended by a wide range of HR and legal professionals. On the panel were three experienced mediators (Fiona Colquhoun, Lisa Drake and Caroline Sheridan); Emma Mamo, a representative from mental health charity MIND; and Laura Penny, Managing Associate and accredited mediator in Mishcon de Reya's Employment department.
The discussion focussed on methods for dealing with mental health issues in the workplace and, in particular, how mediation techniques can be used, alongside other processes, to better manage such issues. The session covered concerns arising out of managing absence and returns to work, performance management, dealing with referrals to occupational health and external doctors, and managing the process of making reasonable adjustments.
Emma Mamo of MIND discussed its work in relation to increasing awareness and understanding of mental health in the workplace. She highlighted MIND's campaign of visiting companies and discussing the implementation of policies tailored to addressing mental health issues within the working environment.
While CEDR's focus is frequently seen as formal mediation, the scope of this event went beyond 'traditional' mediation - i.e. two parties sitting through a day of formal mediation and settling a claim. Early support systems that could be put in place before disputes arise were discussed, including peer-to-peer support, line management support, buddying systems and external support such as mediation and coaching.
One area that prompted a particularly lively debate was in relation to using mediation in circumstances where an employee has distanced themselves on sick leave and is refusing contact with the employer. A mediator in these circumstances can be seen as an independent voice and success stories of enlisting a mediator who had broken the deadlock between the parties were shared.
Mental health in the workplace is receiving increasing amounts of publicity. There was a consensus that as mental health issues are so complex and common, they require greater understanding from employers. Attendees at the event showed a real desire to put in place sensible and effective ways of dealing with those issues while promoting mental wellbeing for all employees.
More and more organisations are looking to put additional policies and procedures in place that are more flexible in nature than the traditional grievance, disciplinary and sickness absence policies. These will often include provision for workplace mediation, designed to work in tandem with other support systems that can also be implemented.