Mental ill health is one of the biggest challenges affecting employers today. According to the mental health charity, Mind, one in six workers experience some form of stress, anxiety or depression. In the UK, mental ill health is responsible for 91 million working days lost each year, costing employers £34.9 billion.

There’s a wealth of research demonstrating that a healthy, happier workforce is a more productive one. As well as higher productivity, other benefits of a happier workforce include lower presenteeism, lower absenteeism, higher staff retention and higher job satisfaction. Long term this will have huge savings for your organisation, but you’ll also see an increase in performance and profits if your staff are engaged, motivated and working to their full potential.

But do I really need to take action?

In total, 15.4 million working days were lost in 2017/18 as a result of stress-related conditions, up from 12.5 million the year before. This equates to 57.3 per cent of the 26.8 million work days lost to ill health according to figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (2018).

In 2017, the government commissioned a report called, ‘Thrive at Work’. This study concluded that the stigma surrounding mental health difficulties is widespread, and prevents open discussion on the subject in the workplace. In order to improve this situation, the report sets out what it describes as “mental health core standards” – a framework for a set of actions, which the contributors believe all organisations in the country can implement quickly. These mental health core standards are as follows:

  • Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan or strategy
  • Develop mental health awareness among employee
  • Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
  • Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development
  • Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing

Top tips

The tips below can help your organisation or business embed these core standards. It’s also important to ensure that your organisation brings together a stakeholder group with representatives from all levels of the organisation to take responsibility and accountability for the implementation of the strategy. It’s also vital that employees with lived experience of mental health difficulties are given a voice and empowered to use their experiences to help shape an effective way forward.

1. Developing a mental wellbeing strategy

This doesn’t have to be a lengthy strategy, and it’s better to start simple. It may even work better incorporated within a comprehensive Health and Safety strategy. The main aim is for mental health and physical health to be given equal status in the workplace. The strategy will contain an organisation’s commitment to ensuring parity of esteem between mental and physical health. Recent guidelines produced and updated by the Health and Safety Executive encourages workplaces to consider the addition of mental health first aiders within the portfolio of support given to employees.

2. Using an embedded model approach

It’s best practice to move from one-off training sessions to working more closely with employees to develop inclusive and comprehensive education and training sessions by understanding the working environment, job roles, sources of stress and current concerns. From here, it’s possible to develop a plan to ensure enhanced mental health literacy at all levels of the organisation, starting with senior management. This top-down approach allows learning to have a longer lasting impact and is far more proactive than reactive.

3. Reviewing and updating of policies/processes

It’s important that your organisation has clear absence and performance policies and processes so that a consistent approach operates throughout the organisation. Successful training often flags up questions and areas of development, which then help to shape a more positive culture surrounding mental wellbeing. Collating employee feedback will enable organisations to create dynamic and inclusive policies and procedures that are focused on the successful retention of staff.

4. Reviewing of values, mission statements and terminology used

It’s important that your values are clear, understood by all and fit with the culture that your organisation wants. Also, be mindful of how certain terminology or language is used throughout your organisation e.g. the word resilience; what does this actually mean in terms of expectations for staff? Might it be better to focus your discussions on what employees need to be able to develop resilience? Does your organisation create an environment where employees can get their emotional needs met at work? A sense of autonomy and control, a sense of psychological safety and an ability to craft ones’ own role are vital emotional needs which ensure employee wellbeing. Individuals also need to enjoy a sense of relatedness in their workplace, competency in their role and a sense of fairness and justice.

5. Mandatory training for all managers

Line managers play a pivotal role in employee wellbeing, ensuring staff can flourish at work as well as ensuring early intervention in situations where individuals are beginning to struggle with their mental health and wellbeing. It’s evident that when organisations offer training to management in how to support and manage mental ill health at work, health outcomes improve.  To ensure a consistent approach and send a clear message that it’s an issue that’s taken seriously, this could form part of mandatory line management training.

6.Modelling of positive behaviours by management

When managers ensure their working practices reflect self-care, this has a significantly positive impact on their teams. Being aware of the hours they work, taking annual leave, taking breaks, working flexibly when needed, and being open about how they feel and when they need support can encourage a trusting and supportive environment.

7. Promoting self-care amongst staff

Providing training that helps individuals to identify their own warning signs of stress and how to manage it effectively, is a great, proactive way of tackling some of the issues around mental wellbeing within organisations. It sends a positive message that we can all take positive steps to manage and improve how we feel.

8.Early intervention and support

It’s vital that managers understand what support is available internally and externally and that they feel confident signposting individuals to that support as early as possible. Examples of available support may include occupational health / vocational rehabilitation support, employee assistance programmes, private medical support, GP, charities and helplines.

9. Monitoring and evaluating

It’s important for organisations to collate feedback and other data to help shape clear and successful initiatives to improve wellbeing within the workforce. It’s recommended that organisations measure the impact of any strategies as well as develop a plan to improve any initiatives moving forward to continue to shape the culture of the organisation.

A good place to start the development of any mental health strategy at work is to undertake a risk assessment process to identify the workplace factors that may be contributing to employee’s experience of stress and to enable a high-level view of the health of the organisation. The Health and Safety Executive has recently updated and revised its ‘Management Standards at Work’, which is a comprehensive way of assessing the risks to mental health in the working environment.

In the workplace, it’s important that employers learn to recognise the signs of mental ill health and risk assess the workplace psychological risk factors that can negatively impact on an individuals’ mental health. Employers should know how to start a conversation regarding mental health, be able to support staff with any mental health difficulties at work and create a workplace environment that enables people to flourish and live well.  Working in a collaborative and supportive environment is not only good for the individual, but the health and performance of the organisation too.

This article was written for CABA by mental wellbeing specialist, Kirsty Lilley.
For more tips, tools and resources to help you take care of your mental wellbeing and empower others to do the same, visit cabamentalwellbeing.org.uk

For more information see www.hse.gov.uk/stress

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