World Mental Health Day - how to make mental health initiatives a business priority

29 September 2022

10 October 2022 is World Mental Health Day. The World Health Organisation’s priority for 2022 is, “Making mental health and well-being for all a global priority”.

It is a great opportunity for us to reflect on how work influences our mental health, whether you are a global employer with offices in ten countries, or whether your office of 25 employees is your whole world.

There is no denying the pandemic has shifted employers’ interest in their employees’ overall wellbeing. Understanding the significant role mental health plays in productivity, sickness absence, and impact on physical health, makes it more important than ever to take a proactive stance in finding ways to help.

The government-sponsored Thriving at Work report estimates that poor mental health costs employers between £33bn and £42bn a year, due to absence, presenteeism and staff turnover. In addition to the clear financial business case for employers to take positive steps to support their employees’ mental health, there is of course the moral perspective of being a ‘good employer’.

What can influence our mental health at work?

Turnover – High turnover rates can be a symptom and cause of employee mental health concerns. If employees do not feel supported by managers, have high workloads and find their roles stressful or not engaging, they are likely to resign. Similarly, having fewer people to do the same or more work will lead to people feeling overworked and stressed, creating a vicious cycle of turnover.

Working environment – Ensuring that employees have the right environment to work in includes both the physical space, such as a safe working space or lone working considerations, and the cultural environment built by management. For example, do employees feel motivated, or are they unsettled by organisational change?

Policies and procedures – Written guidance enables consistency across teams and locations to ensure everyone’s wellbeing is supported fairly. In addition, formal procedures for dealing with bullying or harassment (for example) recognises the mental impact of raising such concerns, and how vulnerable employees may feel when they come forward. It is reassuring if employers have a plan for providing the appropriate support and action.

Mental health diagnosis – It is not possible to put medical concerns aside while we are at work. Therefore, understanding if someone’s mental ill health is considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010 is the first step in providing appropriate support. Giving people space to disclose their health conditions from the recruitment stage provides transparency and can, in many cases, enable extended periods of wellbeing if they feel supported.

External factors – What is happening in an employee’s personal life can have a significant impact on their mental health at work. The economic climate and its associated financial pressures or challenges in their home life may not be a direct result of the employer’s actions, but they will influence employees’ mental health and ability to focus on their roles. Being creative with the support on offer and accommodating of personal needs can help to ease these external pressures.

What can employers do?

  • Encourage line managers to play a key role in supporting employees who have a mental health condition, and provide managers with guidance and policies on how to do this effectively. 
  • Provide training to everyone who takes a supportive role in your organisation, including line managers, staff networks, or employee reps. Implementing Mental Health First Aiders is a great place to start.
  • Consider offering benefits such as an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or access to mindfulness resources or apps.
  • Ensure absence management policies and procedures relating to mental health support the timely referral of employees to specialist help where appropriate.
  • Gain senior level buy-in to the mental health strategy.
  • Understand how your employees are feeling through regular surveys and feedback channels to understand where underlying stresses may be present.   
  • Maintain regular contact with long-term absent employees to prevent feelings of isolation and develop action plans for an effective return to work.
  • Consider tracking mental health absence through sickness absence reporting. Being able to measure and monitor improvements is important to creating change.
  • Carefully consider any requests for flexible working, particularly with the growth in hybrid working models.
  • Proactive employers can develop an overarching mental wellbeing framework with resources for managers to use to support employees in varying ways, depending on individual needs. Raising the profile of mental health at work is part of this.

For a discussion about your approach to wellbeing, or any concerns you have with your employees and their mental health, contact Deborah Payne