Mental health is a universal human right: a fundamental non-negotiable and the theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day. It’s just as important as our physical health, and with the average person spending 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime – roughly 10.2 years – the workplace is integral to creating an environment where employees feel safe and supported to speak about mental health.
While conversations around mental health are moving in the right direction and there are improvements in both attitudes and behaviour, there is still a way to go. A study by JLA surveying 150 companies revealed that 80 per cent of people still feel let down by a lack of mental health support in the workplace, specifically with regards to anxiety.
Mental health provisions are not something that can be easily implemented and embedded overnight, but should continually evolve to suit the needs of a company and its employees. It is our responsibility, as employers, to cultivate workspaces where employees feel valued, acknowledged, and able to open up. This requires continual assessment, compassion and commitment from leaders within an organisation. After all, the same study showed that companies where employees felt they were offered ‘sufficient’ support were four times more effective at reducing severe anxiety in the workplace.
There are some brilliant organisations and resources out there for employers to help support positive mental health in the workplace, including Mind, Mental Health at Work and ACAS. Based on some of my own exploration and reading, as well as what we offer at PLMR, here are four top tips for boosting mental health support in the workplace:
1. Ensuring buy-in and leading by example
Create a culture that genuinely reflects the care an organisation has for its employees. This means ensuring colleagues at every level are brought in and understand mental health and how best to support. Line managers and senior leaders must lead by example and emulate an organisation’s values. Two key things people want from a leader, particularly when it comes to mental health, are trust and respect. These aspects, along with the ability to listen, ask questions and be empathetic, are all fundamental in ensuring employees feel like they can speak up, share challenges and know that they will be heard and supported.
2. Raising awareness and promoting discussion
Conversations about mental health and wellbeing should happen all year round, not just on specific events or points in the year. Consider adding a mental health section to induction packs, communicate and signpost resources, blogs and guidance in newsletters to staff, and host ‘Tea and Talk’ sessions where you can invite colleagues across the business to take part in discussions and opportunities to socialise. Also consider hosting external sessions and speakers who can bring real-world experience and perspective. These powerful stories and experiences can help build awareness and understanding as well as encourage those who may be experiencing difficulties to open up to trusted peers or colleagues.
3. Running staff surveys and wellbeing groups
It’s important to promote a culture of openness, consistently inviting employees to share feedback and suggestions. As well as providing resources, and utilising mental health first aiders, consider bringing other staff into the mix. At PLMR, we have a wellbeing group, made up of individuals from across the business, who discuss different ways to best support colleagues, regularly sharing tips, guidance and reminders on our wellbeing initiatives on offer – from cycle to work schemes and flexible working to life insurance and private healthcare schemes. As part of this, we also run an annual staff wellbeing survey to better understand colleagues’ feelings, what we’re doing well and what can be improved. Having an anonymous way to collect feedback and invite suggestions can be a helpful way of giving everyone a voice and showing that mental health is a top priority in the workplace.
4. Encouraging a better work/life balance
We’ve all fallen victim to skipping a lunch break, pushing through sickness and working beyond our contractual hours – particularly with the more recent hybrid working environments where it’s easy to just keep going. However, it’s crucial for leaders to emphasise the importance of taking breaks and resting. This could involve introducing greater flexible working opportunities, encouraging walking meetings, or reinforcing policies around breaktimes and sickness. After all, the happier and more-supported a workforce feels, the more productive and motivated it will be, making mental health a win-win for everyone.
Mental health is incredibly important, and every organisation should pledge its commitment to bettering the workforce and supporting individuals. So, if you only do one thing today, make it your mission to “Ask Twice”. Asking a colleague how they are once will often be met with ‘I’m fine’, but asking twice – and meaning it – shows that person you want to listen, and are willing to talk. A genuine act that may seem small, really can have the biggest impact.