Claire Reading, Senior Scheme Design Consultant
There’s a common misconception that when we talk about mental health it must be severe, when in fact we all have mental health, it just depends on where it is on the scale of well to unwell. In the past week alone, it’s estimated that one in six people will have experienced a common mental health issue such as anxiety or depression.
As a result, employers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of mental health in the workplace. With over 50 UK companies currently campaigning to put mental health on an equal footing to physical health, it’s about time employers seriously considered how to create a working environment where employees feel supported.
When creating an environment to support employees’ mental health, there are many things to consider. Some of the key things to think about are
3. Lead by example
31% of the UK workforce has been formally diagnosed with a mental health issue, yet only 13% feel able to disclose a mental health issue to their manager. Ensuring that leadership and management teams feel supported and equipped enough to help is a key factor in improving the culture and attitude towards mental health in the workplace. Not only should managers be prepared to deal with mental health issues, but they should also be approachable and understanding.
Create an environment that encourages open and honest conversations about issues such as stress or workload, and then ensure you have a system in place to support people through these issues. Mental health is often seen as a taboo subject, especially in the workplace, but breaking down these stereotypes and talking about mental wellbeing as an everyday thing can create a more positive experience for employees. Creating an open and honest environment can help empower employees to share their experiences of mental health and challenge the current thinking around mental health.
3. Support pathways
All employees should be aware of how and where to access support. Benefits such as Employee Assistance Programs, which offer employees access to free and confidential advice and counselling for both work and personal issues, should be readily available and communicated effectively to employees. Often these types of benefits are not fully understood and accessed too late, once an issue has begun to affect wider aspects of an employees’ life. Use engaging communication campaigns that include key information on how to access the benefit as well as the support it provides.
4. Policies and environment
Organisations should ensure they’ve implemented a clear mental wellbeing strategy that promotes continuous support of employees and tackles the cause of work-related mental health issues. As part of this, HR departments should review whether the current HR & People policies are inclusive of mental health, for example each policy should include flexible working, mental health sickness and absence provision.
A holistic mental wellbeing strategy should also consider how the work environment influences wellbeing. Offices should provide space for both collaboration and concentration, as well as quiet spaces where employees can recharge if needed.
5. Workplace champions
It’s no good instilling the importance of an open and understanding environment with leadership, if it’s not being felt at every level. Creating Mental Health Champions and providing Mental Health First Aid training to nominated employees allows everyone organisation-wide to see the steps being taken to provide mental wellbeing support. Creating a team of Champions will allow the key messages and campaigns to filter through the business and they’ll act as a point of contact and promote healthy minds in the workplace. Employers should consider offering a level of Mental Health Awareness training to educate staff on mental health, how common issues are, how to recognise them and the options available for support.
Whilst there is no one-solution-fits-all for mental health, the key points laid out here should be a great start to help employees feel supported, and create a culture where mental health can be openly discussed and cared for.