Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace

By Sophie Davies
Posted on May 13th 2023

This year the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week (9th – 15th May) is ‘loneliness’. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), loneliness is “the pain we feel when our social connections do not meet our needs”. We know that loneliness can be both the driver and product of poor mental health. It’s something that affects many of us at one time or another, sometimes when we least expect it. Mental Health UK and YouGov conducted a study last month on loneliness in the workplace. They found that one in five (20%) of workers feel lonely at work on a typical day, and 23% of workers agreed that feeling lonely at work has affected their mental health. With the new norm of home and hybrid working, it’s important that we face both the challenges and opportunities these changes bring to peoples’ day-to-day lives and mental well-being.

Prevention is key

Mental health is something that every business needs to proactively consider. Here, we will take a look at some of the ways that your business can offer support to employees and maintain employee well-being. Managing stress effectively is a crucial part of adopting a preventative approach to supporting mental health in the workplace. Your business should consider developing an organisational framework, where all available support mechanisms are defined, and most importantly, these options need to be made clear and accessible to all employees. For example, you could include this information in an employee handbook.

The business impacts of poor mental health

Poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion a year. These costs are not solely the result of absenteeism; many people with poor mental health continue to go to work, which promotes an unhealthy workplace and can undermine staff performance. This is often referred to as presenteeism. Minimising the risk of losing valued employees, upholding brand reputation and establishing good governance are more reasons why your company should proactively manage employee mental health.

It’s important to note that poor mental health does not inevitably result in poor performance. Many people with mental health issues continue to perform at a high level, both with and without adjustments or support. Furthermore, it needs to be understood that people’s mental health fluctuates in a similar way that physical health does. Hence, it’s normal for people to experience some periods of poor mental health where performance could be affected at times.

Beyond Mental Health Awareness Week

As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close for another year, we wanted to share some ideas and recommendations, which you can continue to develop and engage with. After all, raising awareness and implementing effective strategies should continue throughout the year, not just for a week. Good communication and people management skills can go a long way in preventing poor mental health among employees – often it involves a common-sense approach. Managers who regularly ask staff how they are and take an interest in their lives outside of work are more likely to build trust and therefore better manage work-related stress. Additionally, it should be made clear that your company treats mental health as seriously as physical health and gives employees the same consideration for mental health absences as you would for absences relating to physical health problems.

Work satisfaction has an important role to play in mental well-being and health. You should aim to ensure that your employees’ days are structured and goal-oriented to create a greater sense of accomplishment. You could go one step further by implementing a recognition system, where employees are rewarded for their hard work. This process of nomination and recognition will help to create a better sense of community and make your employees feel valued and appreciated.

Broaching the subject

Regular catchups are an opportunity to start the conversation, which should always be in a private, confidential setting where the employee feels at ease and equal. Questions should be simple, open and non-judgemental to give the employee ample opportunity to discuss the situation in their own words. If there are specific reasons for concern, such as impaired performance, it’s essential to address these at an early stage. Keep in mind that each case is unique and must entail active listening and flexibility in response.

Where to get support

It’s important to provide a range of support mechanisms and means of communication for your employees. Many people don’t feel comfortable talking about their mental health, therefore an emphasis must be placed on confidentiality, or in some cases anonymity.

Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma around mental health in the workplace and for some it remains a taboo subject that we shouldn’t speak about. But it’s very clear that this approach doesn’t help anyone – neither the employees nor the organisation they work for. Your company may want to consider offering Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) training. Like a medical first aider, MHFAs ensure the necessary steps are taken to help the individual involved and get further help if needed. They also encourage discussions around mental health to try to eliminate the stigma around having poor mental health. There are many organisations that offer MHFA training themselves, which normally involves a few days of training, either in-person or online. Having an MHFA in your company demonstrates that you take mental health seriously and aim to assist your employees should they have a problem or are aware of a staff member that does.

Creating an employee wellness programme
Some common wellness initiatives include company-sponsored exercise, support to quit smoking, healthy food options in staff canteens, access to occupational or mental health services, pregnancy and lactation services, and gym memberships. Mental health initiatives and support can be included as part of an employee wellness programme. After all, physical and mental well-being are intrinsically linked. Speak to your employees about what they would like to be included in the programme, with the option of anonymous suggestions.

Let’s connect

If you would like to hear more about how your business can help raise awareness, remove stigma, and implement meaningful and effective change, please get in touch at: [email protected]. There is also a wealth of information available on the following websites: Mental Health UK, Mind, and Mental Health Foundation.