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Mental Health in the Workplace: How to Create Mentally Healthy Workplaces

Last September, the Chief Medical Officer called for urgent measures to help those with mental health problems to stay in work. Despite recent exposure in the media and advertising campaigns to help change the way we all think, this problem is still shrouded in stigma and sufferers face a struggle to get back to full health and often find it difficult to integrate back into the workplace.

Employers have largely been on the back foot when tackling mental health which is all the more surprising when you realise that it costs businesses across the UK in the region of £30 billion a year.

There has always been the suggestion that employers simply don’t take issues such as stress, depression and anxiety seriously enough. In fact, many businesses are now beginning to see the light, trying to create mentally healthy workplaces that benefit both the company and the individuals who work there. BT has been one of the most recent pioneers of developing a wellbeing strategy for their staff and have seen a significant impact with a reduction in days off due to mental health issues and more than two thirds of the workforce making it back to work after a stress related illness.

It’s not just the big companies that can work to make things better for their employees. Even SMEs can introduce measures and safety nets that encourage a less stress free, more mentally healthy environment in which employees can thrive.

The good news is that there is plenty of support out there for companies that want to change. Organisations such as Mind produce information to help employers find the right way to introduce healthier work environments and make a big difference. Whilst there has been much in the news about the Government needing to provide a better infrastructure for mental health in the UK, a significant part of the onus falls on our businesses to create more inclusive and caring environments for employees.

Where Your Business is Right Now

You can’t, of course, develop a good mental health policy for your business if you don’t know where you are at this moment in time. If you have some policies and procedures in place already then you need to test if these are robust enough and suit a healthier office. If you don’t have any strategy for short or long term stress related and mental health issues, then you need to start putting these together.

It’s a good idea to question your staff and see what they think. Do they habitually feel under stress? Do they have anyone they can contact if they are encountering problems? Do they think you as an employer even care? An honest survey answered in confidence can tell you a lot about how your business or organisation operates at any particular moment. You can look into the mental health of your organisation in a variety of ways, for example forming focus groups or putting together steering committees made up of members from all levels in the business.

Putting Together a Mental Health Policy

If no one in your organisation has specialist knowledge of mental health, as many won’t in smaller companies, it pays to get someone on board to help put together a policy that works. This is going to involve bringing all the different strands of policy and support together so that employees know what they are getting when problems arise. It’s not simply about the role of the company and line managers in handling mental health problems, there’s the role of HR departments within that and even the contribution of employees themselves.

Providing Mental Health Training

Your line manager may well be good at getting results and boosting your profits, but he or she needs a whole new set of skills if they are going to handle mental health problems in the workplace. They’re not the only ones, employees could probably do with information on mental health issues, not only how to spot them but who to contact in the company when they are worried things might be getting  out of control. 

Building Awareness

How many employees come to work with no idea what to do if there is a fire or a medical emergency or anything else? Unfortunately, we generally go to get the work done and often don’t think of much else. Once your mental health policy is complete and line managers have been trained, then creating awareness of what you provide is important for existing staff. It should also be integrated into induction days for new employees.

There are numerous ways to continue to build awareness, from poster campaigns, email drops and staff briefings, or you can make literature available and make sure all employees have a copy.

Implementing Your Mental Health Policy

Successful implementation needs everyone at all levels to be on board, including senior management. There’s no point in commencing a mental health policy for your workplace if you have no intention of using it. And there’s no point in creating a mentally healthy workplace if you are simply going to cherry pick when you put out a helping hand.

That means you have to monitor how the policy works on a regular basis and get feedback from employees, particularly if they have had mental health issues themselves. Revising once you have implemented is a necessary part of providing continuing mental health support for your staff and making sure that it develops rather than stagnates.

New Employees with Past Mental Health Issues

If you have the right mental health policy in place it will give you more confidence to take on new employees who have suffered from stress related issues in the past. There are a large number of them according to the statistics and they all bring their own particular talents to the table. Often they have been the victim of organisations who have had no policy in place and sometimes a scant regard for the wellbeing of their employees.

We all need to take mental health at work seriously and collaborate to make our environments better. Not only does it improve everyone’s general wellbeing but it also creates businesses that loses less from stress related illnesses and gets a higher level of productivity because employees are engaged. This is a win-win situation for businesses both big and small. It’s just a wonder why it has taken many of us so long to get round to it.

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