Mental Health at Work – Who is Responsible?

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Based on our Hays Barometer Report, fewer than half of professionals assess their mental health and wellbeing support at work positively.
There's a disconnect between the level of support employers claim to have provided and the support employees say they've received. Despite 72% of employers reporting an increased focus on mental health and wellbeing within their organisations, only 26% of professionals agree.
Whoever is right, the recent surge in mental health issues indicates the need reverse this trend. However, this raises the question: who owns the responsibility for looking after the mental health and wellbeing of staff in the workplace?

The wider context of mental health in the workplace

Increasing uncertainty around escalating inflation and ongoing geopolitical instability is profoundly affecting the health and wellbeing of employees.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations have faced several years of upheaval. With the transition to flexible working, it's unsurprising that many now feel stressed amidst the challenges that have ensued.

The case for employer responsibility

These days, there's a widespread expectation for leaders to actively support and assume responsibility for mental health in the workplace. According to a study by Mind Share Partners, 91% of respondents confirmed they believe employers bear the responsibility to support the mental health of their employees.
It's worth noting that nearly all (94 percent) of employers in our Barometer study concurred. The majority of employers feel they should bear either 'significant' or 'moderate' responsibility for employee wellbeing.

Happy, healthy employees benefit the organisation overall

It's evident that employers hold a pivotal role in nurturing and upholding mental health and wellness in the workplace. After all, there are numerous advantages for employers. Employees who feel supported and content at work typically:
  • Stay in their roles for longer periods
  • Take fewer unplanned absences
  • Exhibit higher levels of productivity and creativity
A workforce that is resilient and productive, and capable of managing stress, can consistently perform at its peak regardless of the circumstances.

Moral obligations

Employers are ethically obligated to care for their employees' wellbeing. Supporting mental health in the workplace is essential to aid those grappling with any mental health challenge. Creating a supportive environment for all employees is a crucial ethical responsibility.

Legally, employers must support their employees

Employers are also bound by legal obligations to provide a mentally and physically safe working environment. It's imperative for employers to establish a work environment that mitigates work-related stress and doesn't endanger the mental health of their staff.

Wellbeing initiatives can attract top talent

Furthermore, providing support for mental health and wellbeing continues to be a crucial consideration for benefits that will strongly impress employees.
Hence, attracting and retaining top talent will require more than just a conventional benefits package.
Professionals have re-evaluated what truly matters in their personal lives, with physical and mental health taking precedence. It's essential to be transparent about the mental health support you provide if you aim to attract and retain your staff.

The case for employee responsibility

At the same time, employees also play a crucial role in cultivating a joyful and healthy workplace. As an employee, it's important to prioritise your own physical and mental health and safety. Considering that our work significantly influences our lives, it's inevitable that it can sometimes induce stress or affect our work-life balance.

To complement employers' mental health initiatives, individual employees should:
  • Understand how to prioritize their own mental health at work
  • Consistently engage in stress management techniques
  • Communicate with their line manager if they experience overwhelming feelings.
As an employee, it's essential to adhere to health and safety guidelines provided by your employer. This may involve taking regular breaks during working hours or engaging in physical activities like walking meetings. Participating in stress management practices and prioritising your mental health at work is also highly recommended.
Taking care of yourself at work is crucial for fostering your career advancement and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

How should we all manage mental health at work?

Both employers and employees bear responsibility for fostering positive mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. Employers should establish policies, procedures, and initiatives, while employees should actively participate in the programs provided.
For employers, this signifies that prioritising the mental health and wellbeing of employees must remain paramount. Taking action to enhance mental health and wellbeing, and fostering employee engagement, should be central to every decision-making process.
For employees, this entails collaborating with your employer and proactively taking measures to prioritise your own mental health in the workplace.

Read more guidance for promoting wellness at work

The Hays Salary Guide provides valuable insights into the pivotal factors influencing the modern workplace, including the current status of employees' mental health and wellbeing. Download your local copy for further details.

About this author

Nick Deligiannis, Managing Director, began working at Hays in 1993 and since then he has held a variety of consulting and management roles across the business. In 2004 he was appointed to the Hays Board of Directors. He was made Managing Director of Australia and New Zealand in 2012.

Prior to joining Hays, he had a background in human resource management and marketing, and has formal qualifications in Psychology.

Follow Nick on LinkedIn

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