Helen Smith: How to develop a culture of positive mental wellbeing in the workplace

Helen Smith

More than 11 million UK working adults have taken time off work for poor mental wellbeing, costing businesses an estimated 40 million working days each year, according to research The elephant that never left the room, published by not-for-profit healthcare provider Benenden Health in September 2020.

Yet only 38% of them felt comfortable being honest about it to their employer, while others cite physical health issues or simply take annual leave to avoid the conversation all together.

In addition to this, the survey also revealed that 71% of employers believe there is still a stigma around discussing mental health in the workplace.

So, what can employers do to boost mental wellbeing at work?

With greater transparency and better support, employees would feel more comfortable coming forward about their mental health, but rolling out effective measures can be hard.

There are a number of measures employers can incorporate into their overall health and wellbeing strategy to support the mental wellbeing of employees.

Urge teams to take time out for self-reflection and to build a wellness action plan

This will enable employees to elaborate on how they are feeling and help them consider how their managers and colleagues can assist when they are not at their best.

Appoint mental health first aiders who are trained to talk about mental wellbeing

These individuals can intervene in a crisis and are highly approachable to colleagues. We recommend employing mental health first aiders that are reflective of the workplace demographic.

In the first 18 months after Benenden Health introduced mental health first aiders, for example, they helped 20 cases of colleagues whose mental wellbeing was not in a good place.

Take time to train managers to spot signs of poor mental wellbeing

This step is crucial in organisational transformation, not only does this take the strain off mental health first aiders, it instils the confidence in managers to be able to talk to their employees. In turn, employees feel more relaxed to approach their managers if, and when, they need to have a chat.

Provide resilience training to better equip the workforce to deal with changes

It does pay off to provide employees with the emotional toolkit they need to handle changes to working patterns, responsibilities and the wider social-economic environment.

This has been especially beneficial during the Covid-19 pandemic, with many employees finding that it has helped them with tools and strategies to deal with life stresses outside of the workplace too.

Ensure job satisfaction as it plays a large role in an employee’s mental wellbeing

Whether that is taking time to pave a proper career plan and regular reviews on their performance, or as simple as introducing appreciation rituals like ‘shout-out Fridays’, it helps to make employees feel valued and appreciated.

Do not let physical health take a backseat

We all know the undeniable link between physical and mental health. Take steps to ensure measures are in place to facilitate exercise and better sleep.

Encouraging team-led initiatives introduces friendly competition, making exercising fun and nurturing team work.

Each step is small and progressive, but combined, they can make a larger impact

It is extremely important to foster a culture of openness and compassion, without which the above suggestions might not work. Additionally, looking at healthcare benefits for employees lets the workforce know their employer is taking their mental wellbeing seriously.

Covid-19 has shown that flexible working can be beneficial and potentially the new normal. And with the collective acceptance of tough times, it has opened up conversations around mental wellbeing; let’s continue to talk about it, and nurture a culture of positive mental wellbeing.

Helen Smith is chief commercial officer and business sponsor for wellbeing strategy at Benenden Health.