Sue Baker: Employers have many options to create an open working environment that supports mental health

sue baker

Working with employers from a variety of sectors over the last six years has given us a good indication of what works to ensure a mentally healthy workplace, and these key elements are incorporated into the Time to Change Employer Pledge. This gives organisations the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to opening up the conversation about mental health.

Supportive employers achieve higher levels of staff wellbeing and retention. Looking after the wellbeing of employees benefits everyone; no matter their role, seniority, and whether they have a mental health problem, or not.

There are some things all employers can do to create a more open working environment.

Leading by example: more senior leaders need to be open about their own experiences with mental health problems to show that it is not a sign of weakness and it will not hinder employees’ careers if they open up to their colleagues.

Being clear about why a mentally healthy workplace is valuable: a workplace where everyone is supported to talk openly about their mental health creates a positive, inclusive, and more productive workplace for everyone.

Talking things through with line managers: line managers need to feel comfortable having conversations about mental health with their direct reports. It does not need to be difficult or scary, simply raising the issue or asking how they are feeling is a great start. Avoiding the issue could make people feel more inclined to hide their mental health problem.

Sharing with one another: things will only change if we are all more open with one another. Encouraging employees to speak about their mental health at work by speaking publically about it at events and meetings, through blog posts or the intranet can be a great way to do this. Feedback from employers tells us that this makes the biggest difference in starting a cultural shift.

Be clear about how employees will be treated: employees need to know that they will be treated fairly and without negative consequence if they disclose a mental health problem at work.

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By signing the Time to Change Employer Pledge, employers commit to opening up the conversation about mental health at work and making sure staff feel supported to talk about their experiences.

Sue Baker is director of Time to Change, the anti-stigma movement led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness