Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing - Main Region

How to improve mental health and wellbeing in your workplace

two employees laughing in the meeting room
You would be hard pushed to find anybody who is willing to argue the case against positive mental health in the workplace. Once a taboo topic, many high-profile campaigns have encouraged a more open attitude towards mental health and wellbeing. But as employees become more willing to talk about their mental wellbeing, organisations need to know how to go about supporting mental health in the workplace.

Many organisations currently fall short when it comes to supporting employee mental health and wellbeing. There are, however, several ways to do so that not only help to create a mentally healthy environment but also a workplace that employees want to fully participate in. 

Benefits of supporting mental health and wellbeing in the workplace  

There are many benefits to be gained by supporting mental health in the workplace. To begin with, the human case for building fairer and more inclusive workplaces is certain; regardless of background, everyone deserves to work in a safe, supportive and respectful environment where they can fully participate and reach their potential.  
There is also a growing moral case that the cultivation of a workplace environment that supports mental health and wellbeing should be considered part of an employer’s ethical responsibility particularly when we consider how prevalent mental health issues are.  
Aside from the ethical duty employers have to their employees, there are financial implications too. Internationally, the World Health Organisation estimates that depression and anxiety issues cost the global economy $1 trillion a year in lost productivity. Meanwhile, shorter periods of sick leave and presenteeism result when organisations support employee mental health. Employees are also more engaged, innovative and resilient in mentally healthy workplaces.

How to improve mental health and wellbeing in the workplace

Clearly then it is important for employers to take more responsibility for the mental health and wellbeing of their people. Here are some simple things that organisations can do to create a mentally healthy workplace: 
  1. Create an open, inclusive and accepting culture: Employees need to believe that their organisation provides a positive and inclusive working environment and trust that they will be provided with the support they need. Otherwise, you may not be able to break down the stigma around mental health and people will worry that speaking up could negatively impact their carer.

    This requires employers to create a culture that supports inclusivity, (link to ‘Why equality, diversity & inclusion in the workplace matters – and how to improve yours’) then champion that culture daily. This is something that should be emphasised from your first point of contact with a candidate and then maintained throughout their time with you as an employer. So, from the outset, make it clear that any mental health and wellbeing issue employees wish to discuss will always be treated with confidentiality, respect and understanding, never intolerance.

    Implementing this cultural change may be a lengthy process, but as openness about the subject becomes more commonplace, your employees will find it easier to be honest about their mental health, meaning that support can be provided much earlier.
  2. Set the tone from the very top: Leaders have a responsibility to champion good mental health in the workplace. By showing that they are committed to creating a culture that is both understanding and supportive of their employees, they help break the stigma of being open about mental health issues at work and set the tone for the rest of the organisation. This can be as simple as a regular blog or internal communication from the CEO.
  3. Provide training for senior and middle managers:  With the foundation of an inclusive culture and CEO support in place, you can then provide training for your senior and middle managers on how to understand and identify mental health and wellbeing issues and what support is available. 
    This is an issue explored in our Hays Journal 19. Commenting on the issue, Mark Edgar, Co-Founder of future foHRward in Canada, told us: “It’s critically important for organisations to ensure their leaders have the right leadership skills to create an engaging and inclusive environment. More specifically, skills that increase awareness and confidence around managing mental health issues are a very important component of leadership development.”  

    It's important that these skills are developed in your middle managers, too. After all, it is your middle managers who are on the front line when it comes to enacting wider policies for creating a mentally healthy workplace. They have the most frequent, quality conversations with individual employees about how they are coping. So, help your line managers by also providing them with access to training programs that allow them to recognise the early signs of a mental health condition.  

    Ensure you follow up afterwards to check that your managers have taken the training on board and understand how to apply it as part of their day-to-date management role. Be realistic though – they cannot expect to become mental health experts overnight. But they can instead flag when they think there is an issue and highlight the support that is available to the employee.
  4. Provide the right forums for all employees to have a voice: Feeling that our work is meaningful and our contribution is valued is intrinsically linked to higher wellbeing and employee engagement. Therefore, a crucial element in a mentally healthy workplace culture is the creation of an environment where employees feel their voice is heard, on all issues.  
    This can be achieved by asking for feedback and ideas at all levels through organisation-wide surveys, regular one-on-one meetings with line managers and regular roundtable discussion groups where employees of different levels come together to discuss a range of workplace ideas.
  5. Then act on the feedback provided: Through these forums and meetings, you provide opportunities for your employees to share their perspectives. However, you must also listen to their ideas and then act upon them. Even better, you can celebrate the ideas that are actioned and successful to show that your organisation genuinely believes every single employee’s contribution is valued. 
  6. Regular meetings shouldn’t be solely about work: Your regular one-on-one meetings with your direct reports, and even your performance reviews, can be opportunities to have a holistic conversation with employees. Rather than simply ensuring that work is getting done, you can use these meetings to gauge an employee’s overall wellbeing. Taking the time to ask an employee how their day is going and having a quick chat before you delve into agenda items can make the world of difference to how they are feeling and creates an opportunity for them to raise any issues or concerns.
  7. Provide regular and transparent communication: During these meetings, you should also update your staff on the organisation’s performance, goals and vision. This helps your employees to understand what the organisation is trying to achieve and keeps them invested. Crucially, they do not feel uninformed about the organisation’s current direction and instead understand how their own personal responsibilities contribute to the organisation’s purpose.
  8. Offer regular training & development: Upskilling, training and development can support the creation of a mentally healthy workplace by helping to engage employees, develop their career, boost their confidence and improve their morale.
  9. Run mental health and wellbeing initiatives: Regular initiatives help to promote the importance of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace and engage your staff. Whether you run these initiatives internally, or seek external expertise, they can help you support employees holistically. Examples include physical health programs or challenges, the provision of mental wellbeing resources, mindfulness practices, personal development opportunities and the provision of an employee assistance program.
  10. Make work-life balance a priority for all: The stresses and pressures of balancing work with the demands of your personal life can often result in employees feeling overwhelmed or even cause them to burnout. Ensuring that a positive balance is promoted by implementing effective practices to combat stress – such as flexible working policies, encouraging staff to take regular breaks, offering mental health days off and limiting email hours – demonstrates a commitment to employee wellbeing, particularly if senior employees take advantage of these practices. After all, your workforce needs to know that the use of these is encouraged and they won’t be judged for doing so.
  11. Review mental health and wellbeing support for remote workers: Don’t forget to ensure your support mechanisms also provide for your remote workers. Understand how to identify potential mental health and wellbeing red flags for remote staff in a hybrid team, so that you can signpost further support if it is required. After all, working from home can be lonely and isolating for some people, so make sure you care for the wellbeing of remote staff, too.
  12. Create wellness action plans: Sometimes, preventative measures are not enough, and tangible and practical support is required. If an employee discloses that they are suffering from a mental health issue, developing a tailored action plan can help them manage both their workload and their condition better. These actions could be as simple as scheduling weekly catch-ups to help prioritise workloads, offering flexible working or introducing mentoring schemes.
  13. Role model the behaviour you want to see: Another way leaders can offer their support is to act as a role model and be open about their own mental health challenges – if they feel comfortable doing so. After all, their privacy must be respected, too. Kelly Greenwood, CEO of Mind Share Partners in the US, told us in our Hays Journal 19 that leaders must go first in setting the example. “Being vulnerable – whether about mental health or not – is critical in creating a safe team environment where direct reports feel comfortable opening up about their own challenges. We find that employees typically only need a small window to do so. Having leaders open up about their mental health challenges is a hugely powerful mechanism to reduce stigma since it flips the stereotype on its head.”

Consider external support

While supporting employees with their mental health and wellbeing is important, many organisations choose to outsource mental health care to third parties. Such external support provides your organisation with access to expert help, guidance and training. However, if you elect to do this, you still need to ensure mental health support is entrenched within your organisation.  
To sum up, the success of any organisation is dependent on having a healthy, happy and productive workforce. Prioritising the mental health and wellbeing of your staff should not just be a consideration for the socially-conscious employer – it should be a priority for the business-conscious one too. So, create an inclusive and supportive culture, have an open-door policy and run regular mental health and wellbeing initiatives.

For more insights on how you can improve mental health and wellbeing in your organisation, read our article on ways to take care of your mental health and wellbeing at work, plus download our Hays Barometer Report

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