Mental health in the workplace: improving culture and promoting openness

By Tracey Ward, Head of Business Development and Marketing at Generali UK Employee Benefits

Mental health affects everything we do. And it can be influenced by any number of factors – not least how we feel about our work. According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), 17.9 million working days were lost due to job-induced stress, anxiety, or depression in 2019/20.[i]

But absence is not the only issue; poor mental health also has a major impact on how we perform when we are working. That’s why, earlier this month, Generali UK Employee Benefits organised a virtual workshop with vocational rehabilitation specialists Form Health to explore how organisations can improve mental health culture.

Here’s a summary of what speaker Lorna Berry, Operations and Clinical Services Manager at Form Health, had to say.

The case for supporting mental health in the workplace

The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to assess and eliminate, where possible, the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities. From summer 2021, there will also be new psychological health and safety in the workplace standard (ISO 45003) to take into account.[ii]

But legal obligations aside, promoting positive mental health is good for business. People are the foundation of any organisation. So, when employees take time off due to ill health, start to underperform, or defect to a rival company, the business is bound to suffer too.

With Confederation of British Industry (CBI) figures indicating that even pre Covid-19 40% of absences were related to mental health, it makes financial sense to take steps to protect your workforce’s psychological health.[iii]

Yet only 13% of the workshop attendees who responded to our short survey said they felt confident that line managers within their organisation were fully equipped to support an open and supportive culture post-pandemic.

5 steps to a better mental health culture

1. Listen to your workforce

It is crucial to involve employees in any plan to improve a company’s mental health culture and plan what measures may support wellbeing. So, use questionnaires and employee focus groups to find the best ways to tackle poor mental health within your organisation.

As many businesses start to plan for at least a partial return to the office, listening to employees and involving them in planning and pilot stages is also a good way to manage any potential concerns.

2. Adopt healthy working practices

Practical adjustments to working practices can make a big difference to work-related stress levels. Areas to pay particular attention to at the moment include work-life boundary management, especially when working from home.

“Zoom fatigue” is also becoming a more widely recognised phenomenon. So, ensure there are adequate rest breaks during or between meetings and consider conducting some calls without cameras to reduce psychological fatigue.

3. Lead by example – from the top

When it comes to encouraging openness about mental health, the message needs to come from the top, with executives encouraging their colleagues to flag up any issues and participate in wellbeing activities.

Business leaders also need to lead by example; if the boss works 12-hour days, employees are likely to feel pressure to do the same.

4. Plan your route out of Covid-19 restrictions

Whether staff is coming back into the workplace full or part-time, they will need clear information about any new health and safety measures.

A pilot “back to the office” scheme involving a small number of employees is one way to increase your chances of getting it right.

5. Equip managers with the tools they need to help

Early intervention is key to reducing the impact of poor mental health. So, people managers need training in how to spot the early signs of poor mental health, from changes in an individual’s appearance to lower productivity, as well as how to have open conversations and signpost individuals for appropriate professional support.

*To receive a recording of the 30-min ‘Mental Health in the Workplace’ workshop, hosted by Generali UK Employee Benefits, in partnership with Form Health, please email [email protected]

[i] Working Days Lost in Great Britain Survey 2019/20, HSE, 2020

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[ii] ISO 45003 and the need for psychological health and safety, HSE Network 2020

[iii] Front of Mind: Prioritising workplace health & wellbeing, CBI, 2018