Branch Secretary :

Mental health awareness week


Our mental health at work


Unite the Union is celebrating Mental Health Awareness Week which starts on the second Monday in May every year. But as our article explains, mental health is an issue for members all year round, and here we have some useful guidance on taking up issues both collectively and individually.


There are many ways in which work can exacerbate poor mental health, and these can include the threat of redundancies, reorganisations, overwhelming workloads, being expected to do more with less, low paid jobs, discrimination or the uncertainty of change which can all make things worse.


Trade unions recognise mental health as a workplace issue. According to Mind, 1 in 6 workers suffer from mental health problems including depression and anxiety. We spend a lot of time at work away from family and friends, and it can be a big contributor to stress levels. Negative work practices can affect us in so many different ways. Stress is one of the biggest contributors to poor mental health and should be recognised as a workplace issue.


We want members to be safe at work and to be able to thrive in the workplace, but only if employers take active steps to tackle work-related stress and its underlying causes. Our reps are here to support members with mental health problems, and to support our members to take care of their own mental health, by promoting a positive workplace and challenging the stigmas attached to mental ill health.


The TUC have produced its own booklet:  TUC Mental Health in the workplace and a free e-note: which you can register and access for free.  The first step to helping is to take a moment to recognise that, just like we all have physical health, we can all have mental ill health and that sometimes we feel well, and at other times we just feel unwell. There are many websites and organisations that can offer support and advice:


Five ways to wellbeing

  • Connect
  • Be active
  • Take notice
  • Learn
  • Give


An employer’s responsibility for our health and safety at work


As far back as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, a duty was placed on employers for the following:


“The Provision and maintenance of … systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.”


 It is under this general duty that our employers have responsibility to ensure that our “systems of work” do not cause undue stress and pressure on staff so as to affect their mental health.  Among many others, this can occur by:


  • placing unreasonable demands and deadlines on staff so as to create excessive stress and pressure;
  • the expectation for staff to be working at 100% capacity at all times with no spare capacity for learning, development, sickness,  leave or reflection on their work;
  • the expectation for staff to work long and excessive hours to complete work on time, thus effecting their work/life balance;
  • under-utilising staff by not providing them with sufficient work; and
  • not tackling issues of bullying and harassment when first raised.


We need to recognise that what may be stressful and unmanageable to one person, may be a positive challenge for another person, and therefore there is no one situation which will always lead to health problems. 


However, employers have  a duty to ensure that staff are able to raise issues that create undue stress and pressure and ensure they are treated as seriously as any other workplace risk that is raised.  Prolonged exposure to a stressful situation, when that situation has been raised with the employer and not acted upon, can be seen as equivalent to prolonged exposure to any other harmful substance, over which the employer has a duty to undertake a risk assessment and either remove or mitigate the risks.


We would also argue that sufficient work also means work that is suitable, challenging, worthwhile and with a level of variety.


As trade unionists, it is our job to make sure employers take care of our members’ physical and mental health, provide a healthy and safe working environment, and to hold them to account if they fail in their duty of care. We are also there to support and represent our members especially where they are being treated poorly.


It’s good to try to dispel the myths and fears about mental health problems by encouraging members to talk about their experiences and become active in their workplace, communities and union, but we also need a positive culture where staff feel valued and included.  


Mind and ACAS are good sources of information for workplace issues.


Mind has produced a video on recognising mental ill health:

And tips:

Mental Health in the workplace


As part of the Unite Housing Worker’s Branch, our members can attend relevant events, and the branch can sponsor you to go with the proviso of sharing that learning. Please contact your rep to discuss. See links below:


Acas training available


Acas Mental Health Conference: Navigating the changing landscape 


And finally……


We do not want members to struggle or suffer in silence at work.  We are here to help and to offer support to members confidentially. By having a strong union membership we can also do much to challenge negative perceptions collectively, and work together to improve our wellbeing at work. Please do get in touch if this is an area you would like to organise around within your workplace or across the branch.


Also see this article on changing public attitudes to mental health.


Kerry Brier, Branch Committee Member 14th May 2019


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