Mental-health-at-work

Each year one in four UK residents experience a mental health problem.

In the workplace there is often a taboo around admitting to having poor mental health or being stressed. Emma Mamo discusses how MIND can aid businesses with their health at work programmes.

Workplace wellbeing is increasingly at the top of employer’s agendas, and rightly so. After all, we all have mental health just as we all have physical health, and it fluctuates from good to poor. Employers have a responsibility to promote workplace wellbeing and help prevent poor mental health, and it’s in their interests to take workplace wellbeing seriously, as those that do typically have more engaged, productive and loyal employees, who are less likely to have to take time off sick. Employers also have a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010 to provide reasonable adjustments for an employee who has a disability, which can include a mental health problem if a member of staff can show that it has a substantial, adverse, and long term effect on normal day-to-day activities. Typically, when it comes to mental health problems, these are small, inexpensive changes, such as more regular catch ups with managers, change of workspace, working hours, or breaks.

In recognition of some of the good practice happening within employers, last year Mind launched a Workplace Wellbeing Index – a benchmark of best policy and practice when it comes to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of staff. In our first year, we’ve seen thirty organisations – as varied as Deloitte, Ark Conway Primary Academy, HMRC, the Environment Agency, Jaguar Land Rover and PepsiCo – take part because they’re committed to improving mental health in the workplace. We’ve just held our first ever Index Awards which aimed to highlight the good work and creative initiatives that these employers are offering to promote and support positive mental health – from hosting wellness webinars and appointing mental health champions to providing free meditation sessions and tennis tournaments for staff.

The Index is one of many ways that we work with employers – particularly HR professionals and line managers – to advise them on how to create mentally healthy workplaces. Typically we suggest that they focus on three areas: tackling the work-related causes of stress and poor mental health at work; supporting members of staff experiencing a mental health problem; and promoting wellbeing for all staff. To create mentally healthy workplaces, employers should ensure every member of staff has clearly outlined roles and responsibilities, a manageable workload and achievable targets. Regular communication between managers and line reports is important, particularly for staff working remotely and/or in isolation. The physical workspace is also hugely important as lighting, temperature and greenery all play a role in how we feel. Supportive employers achieve higher levels of staff wellbeing and retention. Looking after the wellbeing of your staff benefits everyone – no matter their role, seniority, and whether they have a mental health problem, or not.

Too often, there is a taboo around admitting to being stressed, anxious or experiencing poor mental health at work. Many employees fear being deemed as weak, incapable or unable to cope. Data from the 15,000 staff who work across the thirty organisations participating in our Index suggests that, although they work for trailblazing employers who are at the forefront of workplace wellbeing, there’s still a problem with employees feeling able to talk about their mental health. Only one in four (26 per cent) respondents said they would be likely to seek support from their manager if they were experiencing a mental health problem. That’s why, above all else, we want to see employers create an open culture where staff feel able to talk about their wellbeing without being perceived as weak or incapable. Bottling things up can make them worse, as can continuing working when you’re struggling with unmanageable stress or a mental health problem.

We work with employers of all sizes and across a range of sectors to help them tackle the unique set of challenges they face in supporting the wellbeing of their staff. Lots of employers are concerned about the costs of implementing wellbeing initiatives, particularly smaller businesses who may not have much budget for implementing new programmes of support. But investing in staff wellbeing saves money in the long run, and simple, inexpensive measures can make a huge difference. Offering regular catch ups with managers gives staff the opportunity to voice any concerns – both personal and professional – and jointly come up with solutions. Wellness Action Plans (WAPs), available free of charge from our website, are an effective tool – jointly drawn up by managers and staff, they help identify what helps people stay well at work and what might trigger poor mental health, as well as identifying solutions. These person-centred plans can facilitate constructive, supportive conversations about mental health.

If you work within HR you’ll know the difference offering things like flexible working hours and Employee Assistance Programmes (confidential phone support) can make when it comes to staff wellbeing and levels of sickness absence. But it’s not just about providing these things, it’s also really important that they’re well promoted and easy to access. It’s also worth bearing in mind that, with these benefits now becoming the norm, if you’re not offering these kinds of schemes you risk losing good staff to a competitor that does.

HR professionals know only too well the unique organisational challenges faced when it comes to supporting the wellbeing of their staff. Mind can help employers of all sizes and sectors to highlight and promote good practice, identify any gaps in provision of wellbeing initiatives and provide support to help organisations do this even better.

If you’re interested in improving worker health and wellbeing, don’t miss the opportunity to hear Emma Mamo speak at HRreview’s Health at Work Summit on the 4th May at the Holiday Inn Kensington Hotel.