How mentally healthy is your workplace?

Written by
Emma Mamo

24 Aug 2016

24 Aug 2016 • by Emma Mamo

We cannot ignore workplace stress

Creating mentally healthy workplaces has never been more important. More than half of the workers (56%) surveyed in our latest YouGov poll said that their work was very or fairly stressful. In fact, work was the biggest cause of stress in people’s lives, more so than financial problems, health or relationships. So workplace stress is an issue too big to ignore.

Unfortunately, mental health at work is still a taboo. Many employees feel unable to talk openly with their line manager about stress, even if it’s so severe that they’ve had to take time off as a result. Of the workers we polled who had been off work with stress, just 5% had told their employer they were too stressed to work. The remaining 95% cited another reason for their absence, such as upset stomach (44%) or headache (7%). That’s why, above all else, there needs to be a culture where staff feel able to talk openly about their wellbeing without being perceived as weak or incapable.

"Unfortunately mental health in the workplace is still a taboo"

Promoting wellbeing helps motivation

Putting in place measures to promote staff wellbeing shows your staff that you are a responsible employer, who values their contribution and wellbeing. It also makes good business sense - employers who look after their staff reap rewards in terms of increased staff morale, productivity and retention; as well as reduced sickness absence. Three in five people polled told us that if their employer took action to support staff mental wellbeing, they would feel more loyal, motivated, committed and be likely to recommend their workplace as a good place to work.

Also, a 2014 survey carried out by Deloitte found that Millennials (those born in the 1980s and 1990s) who have been entering the job market throughout the early 21st century show different preferences to their predecessors when it comes to workplace culture, wellbeing and self-development, placing greater importance on a healthy work-life balance and a positive workplace culture. As such, they are more likely to turn their back on their employer if these needs are not met. Workplace wellbeing initiatives such as 'Employee Assistance Programmes' and flexible working hours are now common currency, so if your organisation isn’t offering them, there’s a chance you could lose good personnel to another organisation which does. 

Before implementing any wellbeing initiatives, conduct an anonymous staff survey to gain insight into the wellbeing and satisfaction of individual members of staff. Surveys ought to be regularly carried out - annually or more frequently if necessary - and will highlight areas where your organisation is doing well and those that can be improved on. They can also show where existing policies and practice are not consistently applied.

Creating good workplaces for the mind

Creating mentally healthy workplaces involves promoting wellbeing for staff, tackling work related mental health problems and supporting staff experiencing mental health problems.

There are a number of practical ways employers can improve working conditions, which needn’t be costly. Small, inexpensive measures can make a huge difference. One such intervention which won’t break the bank is a Wellness Action Plan - available free of charge from Mind’s website. Jointly drawn up by managers and staff, this tool identifies what helps people stay well at work as well as specific symptoms, triggers and support needs and agreed solutions. These person-centred, tailored plans can be very effective as they recognise the fluctuating nature of mental health problems and the way mental health affects everyone differently. Even more importantly, they can facilitate constructive and supportive conversations about managing mental ill health. 

Ensure every member of staff has clearly outlined roles and responsibilities; and that their workload is manageable and targets achievable. Regular communication between managers and line reports is important, particularly for staff working remotely and/or in isolation. Having frequent meetings creates the space for employees to discuss any issues they are facing and develop methods to tackle these problems. The physical workspace is also hugely important as lighting, temperature and greenery all play a role in how we feel.

There has been a quiet revolution around the water cooler as employers increasingly acknowledge the impact of mental health on their staff. This is in part due to the positive impact of anti-stigma campaigns like Time to Change, run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. We’ve seen over 350 organisations demonstrate their commitment to supporting the wellbeing of their staff by signing the Time to Change organisational pledge. In recognition of some of the positive steps being made in this arena, later this year we will launch a Workplace Wellbeing Index, enabling employers to celebrate the good work they’re doing to promote staff mental wellbeing and get the support they need to be able to do this even better, and encourage other organisations to follow suit.