Eight in ten employers (83%) aren’t ‘100 percent happy’ with undertaking performance management with an individual with an underlying mental health condition, new research has revealed.

WorkNest, the employment law, HR advisory and health and safety support firm, questioned 200 employers and HR professionals on performance management issues.

The research reveals a stark contrast between dealing with physical and mental health conditions, with 65 percent of employers say they feel ‘fairly comfortable’ dealing with an individual with an underlying physical health condition, which is often easier to diagnose and manage.

It suggests that HR teams and employers are less confident addressing underperformance concerns relating to mental health, possibly because such cases tend to be less ‘black and white’, with prognosis and reasonable adjustments varying significantly from person to person.

Unfortunately, with numerous factors currently impacting people’s mental health, underperformance issues with a ‘riskier’ legal element are likely to become more common.

Meanwhile, over half of employers (55%) believe the cost-of-living crisis is negatively impacting employees’ mental health and/or performance in the workplace.

Toyah Marshall, Principal Employment Law Adviser and Solicitor at WorkNest commented: “Getting the right support is critical. When dealing with employees with mental health conditions, advice must be bespoke to each employee depending on the individual’s situation, as no two employees, their symptoms or the support required will be the same. Of course, this makes it difficult for business leaders and HR consultants to be trained to handle mental health-related performance management issues. It’s not as simple as putting the employee on a standard performance improvement plan (PIP).”

During the last 12 months, two-fifths (39%) of organisations questioned have referred more employees to occupational health than previously, with employers making slightly more referrals for employees with mental health conditions than physical health. The data suggests that recent current affairs such as the cost-of-living crisis and the aftereffects of the pandemic have resulted in employees increasingly suffering from various mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression.

Interestingly, further data also uncovered that most respondents (73%) currently have ongoing cases with employees whose physical or mental health is affecting their performance capability, with mental health referrals outnumbering physical health referrals.

Reassuringly, the vast majority (82%) of employers have made reasonable adjustments to support an employee with declining performance management capability over the past year.

HR professionals and employers must consider that employees with a mental health condition which meets the definition of a disability under section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 are legally entitled to reasonable adjustments. These are measures that the employer should implement to help mitigate any disadvantage experienced by the employee in the workplace due to their condition. Reasonable adjustments may involve physical adaptations and the provision of specialist equipment, but they can also include amending shift patterns, responsibilities and, importantly, the employee’s place of work.

Toyah added: “If an organisation is unsure whether allowing continued home or hybrid working would be a reasonable adjustment, it should consider obtaining a report from an Occupational Health provider. Occupational Health would be able to provide expert advice to assess if an employee’s health is impacting their performance and what additional measures may help the employee to get back on track.”