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Farrer & Co | Being mindful of mental health

In 2018, mindfulness – a particular form of meditation, designed to help those who practice it become more self-aware and improve their mental health – is a frequent and common practice. It has grown rapidly over the past few years, to the extent that now nobody bats an eyelid if a friend mentions that they spent fifteen minutes meditating before work on Thursday. The phenomenon shows no signs of loosening its grip on the world. According to an industry report by IBISWorld on Alternative Healthcare Providers in the US, meditation services are expected to generate $1.15bn for the US economy this year. 

In contrast, mental health issues are a significant cost to employers as a result of employee absences. The Health and Safety Executive reported that 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/2017. It is therefore unsurprising that some employers are recognising that mindfulness can help create a more motivated, stable and satisfied workforce. Google has had a “head of mindfulness” for years, and many other global companies offer lunchtime mindfulness sessions.

The M Restaurant Group seems to be taking this concept to the next level, as part of its “M-indful” initiative. The group has granted full-time employees four additional paid days off each year, known as “mindfulness days”. The group’s director, André Mannini is reported to have said that “these mindful days can be used however people want and it gives them an opportunity to revitalise and come back to work better without having to take time off out of their leave.

You may think that this is just a company riding on the coat tails of cultural fads to get some good PR. You may be right – look at the kudos given to Chief Executive Ben Congleton in 2017, when he applauded one of his employees (a US web developer named Madalyn Parker) for openly taking a few days off to focus on her mental health. After all, all the M Restaurant Group is essentially doing is increasing each employee’s holiday allowance, under a different name – what’s the big deal?

Employers are not legally obliged to give all employees designated paid mindfulness days, provide mindfulness training or access to mindfulness experts. But employees can take sick days for mental health problems, in the same way that they could for a physical issue, like back pain or the flu. Indeed, a mental health issue which has a substantial, adverse and long-term effect on normal day-to-day activities may be classified as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, requiring employers to make reasonable adjustments and not treat employees unfavourably because of their disability or something arising as a consequence of the disability.

So why does the M Restaurant Group feel the need to offer “mindfulness days”? Perhaps the answer lies behind the fact that mental health charity Mind says that employees are often too scared to tell their manager about mental health problems. Even in this day and age, mental health issues can still carry a taboo. Employees in the hospitality sector suffer from high rates of depression and other mental illnesses. By giving employees the chance to take designated mindfulness days, the M Restaurant Group seems to be recognising that employees have to look after their mental health to prevent it deteriorating to a point where they are not well enough to work.

The group is trying to foster a more open and supportive culture, encouraging employees to talk about mental health. While (to me at least) this seems to be the right thing to do morally, it also makes sense from a business perspective. Many studies have shown that healthy, happy employees perform better at work. Encouraging employees to take designated days to look after their mental health could also help reduce those unplanned 12.5 million days’ worth of absences. And, of course, the good PR doesn’t hurt…

If you require further information please contact Emily Part or your usual contact at the firm on +44 (0)20 3375 7000.

This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

© Farrer & Co LLP, August 2018

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