How business owners can balance employee performance with caring for mental health

Employers should focus on productive cultures not 'inner work', says Sue Tumelty.

How business owners can balance employee performance with caring for mental health

Employers should focus on productive cultures not ‘inner work’, says Sue Tumelty.

It was interesting, shall we say, to see the Duke of Sussex offering his expert views on workplace culture recently.

While everyone with a heartbeat will sympathise with those with genuine mental health concerns, many business owners will have read with mouths agape the suggestion that they should offer their employees, and pay for, 45 minutes of ‘me time’ every day.

Prince Harry probably has the best of intentions, particularly given his well-documented insight into issues surrounding mental health. However, one suspects he falls short on experience when trying to understand the perspective of a business owner and the impact that the measures he recommends would have.

What are your legal obligations as an employer?

All UK employers, whether franchisors or franchisees, are responsible under the Health and Safety Act 1974 for the health, safety and welfare of their staff.  Of course mental health will fall under the influence of that policy, which is why employers must put stress risk assessments in place.

However it is important to state that this only makes the employer responsible for not damaging an employee’s mental health while at work. It categorically does not place the responsibility on you as an employer for making sure that your employees are stress free in all aspects of their life. 

Poor mental health can arise from a myriad of life experiences. Work may be an element of it, but it’s rarely the only cause.

As ever the deciding factor is ultimately what is considered reasonable. You as the business owner have the authority to foster an environment which is in the best interests of the business – fair and ethical but with productivity and excellence as the targets to aim for.

Practical steps

Is it therefore reasonable for an employee to expect to be allowed 45 minutes to meditate in the middle of every working day? Some might say that this is unduly passing the responsibility to the employer. 

And within the workplace, it would be good to have some indication of how the Duke’s suggestion could be managed. Would this time be taken in one block or at points throughout the day? And would it be additional to, for example, lunch breaks?

Individuals also have responsibility for their own physical and mental health, and that there are many things they can do outside the workplace to  support this so that they operate effectively within it.

As a manager of people, good practices you may choose are: regular one-to-one meetings; ongoing reviews of job descriptions to ensure roles are achievable; genuinely supportive listening regarding concerns, goals and aspirations; and appropriate rewards for successes. To support those in your team who have mental health problems, you can provide an employee assistance programme so they can get professional help.

Sue Tumelty
Sue Tumelty