How to boost the mental health of your workplace
Employee Wellbeing More employers are realising the benefits of a mentally healthy workplace – but more needs to be done. Here's how your organisation can get started.
“Employers cannot afford to ignore the importance of workplace mental health,” says Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at the charity Mind.
“Workplace stress is driving poor mental health, which is a problem for employees - and employers. An employee lost because of poor mental health is an investment wasted. Failure to tackle the problem risks a recurrence with individual employees but also across your whole workforce, but action to create mentally healthier workplaces means employees feel more engaged, reducing sickness and absence and increasing productivity.”
Managers should watch for potential signs of stress such as withdrawal, mood changes, or longer hours
So what drives poor mental health at work? “Mind surveys show that the main drivers are issues with management, workload, unreasonable expectations and job insecurity,” says Mamo. “Work/life balance is often a problem. Too many people now are missing family events and being contacted at weekends or on holiday. The constant pressure and expectations take their toll.”
How can employers tackle the problem? Mamo suggests they first identify the stressors, using employee surveys and mental health audits. Presenteeism can be tackled by emphasising that staff should work sensible hours and take proper lunch breaks.
At the individual employee level, staff could develop their own wellness action plans, identifying what keeps them well at work and what causes them stress, how they show the signs, and suggesting ways they can be supported. “Regular chats with their managers to check whether they are struggling with their workload can help,” Mamo says.
Managers should watch for potential signs of stress such as withdrawal, mood changes, or longer hours. Small changes can help, such as the chance to work from a quieter office or at home, periodic breaks, a meeting with a manager to help prioritise the workload, or extra catch-up time. Employees taking mental health medications that make them sluggish in the mornings could be offered a later start.
"We have seen senior leaders talking about their own problems, but it must be acceptable at all levels”
- Emma Mamo
Staff with previously-disclosed mental health problems are covered by the Equality Act so employers have a duty of care to make reasonable adjustments such as changes in hours or responsibilities. However, Mamo says: “We don't just want employers to act because of legal requirements. We want to see them showing a positive commitment to the mental health of all employees.”
This way, employers can change the workplace culture to one in which staff are no longer afraid to talk about mental health. “We have seen senior leaders talking about their own problems, but it must be acceptable at all levels,” says Mamo.
Some employers are leading the way. Twenty senior partners at Deloitte are trained in mental health first aid and all staff have access to them. A clutch of City employers set up the City Mental Health Alliance, which now has around 30 corporate members. Around 500 employers have signed up to the Time for Change campaign addressing the workplace stigma around mental health.
“Change is happening,” says Mamo, “but we need more employers to see the benefits of taking action.”