Employee mental health is one of the key issues affecting UK workplaces. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 6.8 people experience mental health problems in the workplace and almost 13% of all sickness absence days in the UK are connected to mental health conditions.
Despite its prevalence, many people still consider mental health a taboo topic. This can make it difficult for employees to discuss workplace stress and mental health conditions with managers or co-workers.
As well as being an issue for individual people, poor mental health has a clear impact upon businesses too; according to the UK Government's Thriving at Work report, time off for mental illness costs UK businesses between £33 billion and £42 billion each year.
Improving mental health at work
Employers and managers can take steps to support and improve employee mental health at work, in terms of communication, training, and creating cultural change within their organisation.
Consider the following tips for improving your approach to mental health in the workplace for everyone's benefit:
Start the conversation on mental health and wellbeing
When an employee is feeling stressed out or experiencing a mental health problem, it can be difficult for them to disclose it at work due to the possibility of stigma and discrimination, which is a very real issue for many people despite the common nature of mental illness.
In this regard, it's powerful for an employer to reach out and start the conversation about the importance of mental health. This could be in the form of an initial email detailing the organisation's mental health policy and approach, a line manager having a conversation with their team, or offering a training session about stress and mental health at work.
Taking a proactive and open approach to mental health conversations at work will help normalise talking about stress and mental health problems, ultimately helping employees come forward if they need support.
Commit to a mental health action plan
As with any health and safety exercise, identifying potential mental health risks in your workplace and taking steps to manage and mitigate them helps keep your staff healthy and safe. Take stock of conditions that could impact upon mental health and create an action plan on how to tackle them. Considerations could include manageability of workloads, clarity for job roles, and communication processes.
Committing to making these improvements will help you make positive changes to your organisational culture over time. These can range from small changes, such as adding more plants to the office or providing fruit and healthy snacks, to more long term strategies about mental health awareness and education initiatives.
Create a mental health policy
A sign of serious commitment to mental health and wellbeing is creating a specific mental health policy for your organisation. It's ideal to enlist the help of legal and mental health professionals in the creation process, to ensure the resulting policy is non-discriminatory and fit for purpose.
To find out more about how to create a mental health policy for your organisation, see Health and Safety Executive's documentation on Mental health conditions, work and the workplace.
Provide mental health awareness training
It's particularly important that line managers have a good understanding of how stress and mental health conditions can be related to someone's working environment. Training line managers to recognise signs of stress and mental ill health means they can support people more effectively.
Of course, everyone can benefit from learning more about mental health and stress; as co-workers, we can all look out for each other in terms of workloads, communication, and support. From emailing out resources to organising training sessions and courses, there are many ways to provide awareness training.
Encourage breaks away from the desk
It can be tempting to not have a proper lunch break when workloads are high and deadlines are looming. However, taking breaks away from the desk is ideal for employee mental health. Encouraging regular breaks whenever possible helps staff destress and reset.
Related article: How to reduce employee stress at work for better productivity
According to research, taking lunch breaks can help increase productivity, improve mental wellbeing, and boost creativity. Beyond encouraging employees to take their full lunch break away from the office, it's also important to highlight healthy activities; for instance, employees can take their break to go for a walk, exercise, and socialise with colleagues.
Encourage employees to take annual leave
Beyond encouraging good habits for daily breaks, longer breaks are important too. Using annual leave to properly rest and recharge is good for physical and mental health. Sending out a reminder email that everyone is entitled to their annual leave won't hurt. Plus, you can take the opportunity to encourage people to plan for holidays and work cover in advance.
For more tips on this, read our post on encouraging staff to take annual leave.
Supporting employees returning from mental health leave
If you have any staff that have been suffering from mental health issues and have had to take mental health leave, it's really important to know how to go about supporting them upon their return to work. You can read our top tips on how to do this here.
More tips on improving employee mental health
For more tips on how to improve mental health at work, see the following resources:
Mind's Mental Health at Work portal
More free resources on mental health at work from Mind
The Acas guide to mental health in the workplace
Written by Camille Brouard
Camille is a Senior Marketing Executive for myhrtoolkit who writes on topics including HR technology, workplace culture, leave management, diversity, and mental health at work.