Mental Health Awareness at Work: A Guide for Employers and HR
As employers and HR professionals, it's never been more important to create a supportive workplace culture that promotes mental health and employee wellbeing.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, which is the UK’s leading charity for everyone’s mental health:
- ● Almost one in seven people experience mental health issues in the workplace
- ● Over 12% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions
- ● UK businesses can save up to £8 billion each year by providing better mental health support.
This guide offers actionable advice for employers on how to take a supportive approach to employee wellbeing and mental health challenges. Following these practical steps will have a positive impact on fostering a workplace where everyone's mental wellbeing is valued and supported.
Employees and mental health
Everyone has mental health. As with physical health, your mental health can change between a thriving and struggling state of wellbeing.
The World Health Organisation defines good mental health as when a person can 'cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.'
Factors such as long hours, office politics, and job insecurity have a direct impact on mental health at work. In 2021/2022 alone, work-related stress, depression, or feelings of anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health, which resulted in 17 million working days lost.
Despite mental health problems being very common, one study found that, due to the stigma around mental health, 95% of employees give a different reason when taking time off when struggling with their mental health.
Employers and mental health
Employers have a duty of care to ensure that employees feel safe and supported in the workplace. To achieve this:
- ● Implement a mental health policy that clearly outlines the wide range of resources on offer to create a mentally healthy workplace
- ● Ensure that your management style is to lead by example and demonstrate the importance of practising self-care
- ● Add mental health champions to your employee assistance programme to offer dedicated and confidential employee assistance
- ● Regularly assess employee mental health via health questionnaires, informal meetings, and regular wellbeing calls with remote workers.
One study found that 26% of employees blame management style for work-related stress, which highlights the importance of embedding your employee wellbeing agenda from the top down.
Plus, a wellbeing strategy that invests in mental health support and training for leaders can lead to a £5.3 return on every £1 spent.
How to support employees with their mental health while at work
Although supporting employee mental health with a healthy and inclusive culture is an ongoing effort, here are some initiatives you can implement to help promote positive mental wellbeing in the workplace.
1. Promote mental health awareness
One of the best ways to support employees and help reduce the stigma around mental health conditions is to:
- ● Educate your entire staff about common mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder
- ● Provide a safe and supportive two-way dialogue between employer and employees via workshops, counselling sessions, and manager check-ins
- ● Give employees access to mental health services such as local mental health professionals, occupational health services, and mental health helplines.
This ensures that everyone feels comfortable to have open and frank mental health conversations without fear of judgement or repercussions.
To effectively achieve this continuous listening approach, HR teams, senior leaders, and line managers should have the necessary mental health tools, skills, and training so they know how to recognise signs of mental health issues and can provide adequate support, excellent care, and practical advice.
Providing employees with workplace wellbeing services allows those who may be going through a tough time or high levels of stress to access the tools they need to take charge of their own positive wellbeing.
Employers should continuously support employees throughout the period of time they're with your business, from the recruitment and induction process to their final exit interview.
2. Get involved in Mental Health Awareness Week
Mental Health Awareness Week takes place in May every year. Started by the Mental Health Foundation in 2001, it is 'the biggest opportunity for the whole of the UK to come together to focus on getting good mental health.'
To help tackle stigma and help people prioritise their and others' mental health, each Mental Health Awareness Week has a theme. In 2023 it was anxiety and previous mental health topics include loneliness, nature, kindness, and body image.
By focusing on getting good staff mental health, it is a valuable opportunity for employers to reinforce their commitment to staff wellbeing. Although mental health at work should be a year-round consideration, Mental Health Awareness Week offers employees a key opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to employee mental health.
3. Offer flexible work arrangements
Flexible work arrangements have been shown to have a positive impact on employee wellbeing.
That's why the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recommends offering more flexible working arrangements for someone who needs support for mental ill health. Plus, studies show that employees crave flexibility at work with 47% of employees willing to consider quitting if flexible working isn't an option.
Whether it's remote work, hybrid work, flexible hours, or job sharing, flexible working gives employees more control over their schedules, so they can better manage their workloads, which can help to:
- ● Improve mental health and sleep quality
- ● Produce higher employee engagement
- ● Lead to a better work-life balance
- ● Reduce staff turnover by 87%.
You can also consider making reasonable adjustments to your employees' working day through initiatives such as designated break times, changes to working hours, providing a quiet workspace, or adjusting workloads to relieve pressure.
An effective management technique for ensuring you introduce effective adjustments is to have a confidential dialogue with employees about what changes would best support them.
It's also a good practice to offer mental health days, which is personal leave that lets individuals who may be having a difficult time take time off to focus on their mental wellbeing.
4. Encourage physical activity
Exercise is often described as 'the miracle cure' as it can lead to positive gains in health and wellbeing.
Regular exercise releases feel-good hormones which can help to:
The CIPD found that employers who prioritised the employee wellbeing experience enjoyed a healthier, more inclusive culture with better employee morale and engagement.
So, consider how you can encourage your employees to get moving by introducing regular opportunities to be active such as group exercise classes, fun fitness challenges, walking meetings, and regular stretch breaks.
You could also boost your programme of activity by introducing the following health and wellbeing salary sacrifice schemes to your employee benefits:
- ● Active commuting: Encourage healthier commutes with Cyclescheme. Employees get between 25% and 39% off a new bike and accessories from over 2,000 retailers in the UK
- ● Gym memberships: Promote a more active workforce with MyGymDiscounts. Employees get up to 25% off a gym membership for Virgin Active, David Lloyd, PureGym, and many more.
5. Encourage healthy habits
Reduced sitting time has a positive impact on mental health as it can reduce or prevent stress, decrease exhaustion, and increase energy levels. Yet 73% of office workers in the UK never take a full one-hour lunch break.
So encourage your employees to take regular breaks from their desks with refreshment breaks, guidance on stretching exercises, indoor and outdoor break areas with fitness equipment or fun activities, and workplace competitions, such as a step count challenge.
On the topic of refreshment breaks, providing healthy snacks can help boost one's mood by making your employees feel valued and appreciated. According to the Mental Health Foundation, a 'diet that is good for your physical health is also good for your mental health', so opt for nutritious options such as fresh and dried fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, yogurt, and rice cakes.
6. Provide financial support
The cost-of-living crisis is affecting people's mental health, according to Mind, the mental health charity. Uncertainty over rising costs can lead to a range of issues such as anxiety, sleep problems, and panic.
Anxiety about the economic crisis is so great that 71% of managers report that it is affecting performance at work.
Our research into how employers can help employees through the cost-of-living crisis found that just 5% of workers felt their company was doing enough to support them.
Two-thirds of those surveyed agreed that benefits need to be a part of the solution.
This is backed up by the CIPD's seven interrelated aspects of wellbeing, which highlights the importance of providing employees with a flexible benefits scheme to boost their financial wellbeing.
With that in mind, here are four employee benefits designed to help employees better manage their finances:
- ● bYond: This cashback scheme gives employees up to 15% cashback every time they shop with over 70 UK high street brands
- ● Extras Discounts: This discount scheme lets employees save on leading highstreet brands with up to 15% off physical and digital gift cards
- ● Techscheme: Whether it's smartphones, laptops, or TVs, employees can save up to 13% on over 5,000 tech items for themselves and others
- ● Care4: Employees can save up to £933 each year on childcare with the UK's leading electronic childcare voucher scheme.
Providing the support your employees need
For more information and support on the topics mentioned in this blog, please use the following resources: