What Can Employers Do To Support Mental Health In The Workplace?


Wrote this on, May 18, 2020

supporting mental health in the workplace

Are you looking to support mental health in the workplace but not sure where to start? For many employers, they still struggle to see the importance of focusing on employee mental health but for others (hopefully you!) many are now giving it the attention it deserves.

We spend the majority of our lives at work, 13 years on average if you want to put a figure on it. This means that whatever happens in our working years, has a large impact on the way we live our lives. Where we decide to live, who we choose to socialise with, where we get our income from and our overall mental state. A happy working life is fulfilling not just while on the job but also in other aspects of our lifestyle.

No job is perfect, some of us are fortunate to love what we do while others may hit unexpected roadblocks. Life happens and before we know it, we’re overwhelmed at the sound of the alarm buzzing every morning. A working environment should, fundamentally, be a place where we can thrive, not a destination to dread everyday. Working doesn’t always need to be hard and unmanageable; the notion that because we are paid to be there doesn’t mean we can’t also enjoy what we do. If our work-life balance is in check, our career can operate in harmony. 

What is Mental Health In The Workplace?

Some of us suffer mental health issues in our personal lives that, at times, spill into our work life. Going to work with external noise and stress does and will impact how we operate at work, that being said, no one should have to suffer in silence with knots in our stomach. The key to a healthy working life? Good management. This promotes a healthy working community from the offset.

mental health in the workplace

Mental health is something we all have; it comes in both healthy and unhealthy forms. Whether triggered by external circumstances or not, in the same way we go to the gym to look after our physical being, we should do the same for our physiology. It is important in order to support mental health, we need an understanding of it. In the workplace the most common mental illnesses are:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

We don’t always understand or are aware of our own emotions. In place of dealing with what’s going on inside, we might project leading us to put blame on those around us. That’s why, it’s important to be able to recognise if someone’s actions are coming from a healthy place or not. We spend the majority of our week surrounded by colleagues, often more than we do our spouse or family. Here are a few indicators someone may be suffering a mental illness:

  • Irritability
  • Lack of focus
  • Impacting colleagues
  • Tiredness
  • Avoidance
  • Procrastination

If you believe a colleague may be suffering one of the above it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure line managers create a supportive and caring environment.

What Can You Do In Your Workplace?

employees mental health

Create a mental health strategy within your organisation by educating the workforce on what is important for them and for others. 

  • Create an open dialogue between teams and their managers. Not everyone feels comfortable talking openly amongst colleagues but frequent one-to-one sessions and appraisals create a natural space for someone to open up. Employees are often afraid to tell their managers they are struggling or under stress in fear it might jeopardise their job. Our mental wellbeing can be affected by a number of different circumstances and no problem should ever be considered too small to be taken seriously.
  • Treat mental health and physical health equally. If someone is signed off work due to a physical injury, it’s likely they’ll be signed off work to recover. We are, as employees, entitled to the same treatment concerning a mental illness. A lot of businesses offer gym schemes and on-site workout classes in their new starter packages. To support a healthy mind, you could offer mindfulness courses with local studios or host on-site weekly meditation practises.
  • Offer in-house help where you can. You can do this by setting up a ‘buddy’ system with mental health champions. These can simply be volunteers within your workforce. Employees, who feel they need to, can approach a mental health peer as and when in a comfortable and private setting. It’s important senior management communicates to all employees conversations will remain confidential and nothing will be escalated without permission. Hiring staff with an already mindful approach will be an asset to your organisation.
  • Host seminars. Invite mental health coaches and advocates for Q&A sessions, or host mental health training in the form of workshops. Employees will feel more encouraged to open up if the tone is set by senior management that it is ok to be open about our feelings and be vulnerable.
  • Make reasonable adjustments. If someone tends to have anxious thoughts in the morning, the last thing they’ll want to do is feel panicked and rushed to get to work on time. You can accommodate by changing a person’s work pattern allowing them to start later or provide equipment that allows for remote working. Social work functions can be a trigger for some. Employees will still want to feel included, it is important the invitation is always apparent but not forced.
  • Keep your team active. It is paramount for our mental wellbeing to keep active, the two go hand in hand. We’re not telling you to train like an athlete or partake in marathons, however, regular exercise promotes our self-esteem, and allows for better sleep and concentration. Staying active can either be done at low impact by taking a walk at lunch each day for 30 minutes or at high intensity by attending a boxing class. Support your team into taking part in the type of exercise they enjoy and that works for them. 
  • Promote healthy eating. Our diet can affect how we feel immediately as much as it can in the long term. Wholesome food that is good for our body is also good for the mind. Offer healthy fresh snacks and tea alternatives, as opposed to highly caffeinated frappuccinos. Encourage your teams to get away from their desk during lunch, small breaks throughout the day allows space for the mind to refresh. Be mindful that some mental health issues can surround food, it may be that they do not feel comfortable partaking in team lunches or dinners and that should be considered ok. Don’t exclude them but excuse them if that is what they prefer. 
  • Promote breaks and downtime. When someone is feeling stressed, depressed or anxious it is hard to focus. We might lose our train of thought, lack clarity or show little interest in the task at hand. Productivity doesn’t come from being overworked, rather it comes from a place of balance. Taking a break changes the scenery and resets our pace, these can be as small as taking fives minutes away from our desk to make a drink, or booking time out of the office to get away. Needing a few days of extra sleep doesn’t make us lazy or unproductive, it is our body’s way of telling us to slow down. It is important that managers encourage staff to have time off too, we don’t live to work and that shouldn’t be the motto of your workforce. Each and everyone of us is entitled to downtime and a life outside of receiving a paycheck. 
  • Offer mental health days as part of your introductory package. In the same way we take days off for a migraine, we can do the same with our physiology. Receiving a call or email from a team member explaining they are too overwhelmed with anxiety to come into work should not be brushed under the rug. The stigma attached to mental health forces employees to be dishonest about why they are off sick. No worker should feel ashamed or worried that a mental health issue does not warrant a day off, and we equally don’t deserve to have to put on a brave face when we are unable to, it only makes matters worse. Should an employee need a mental health day, offer help where you can. If you are concerned someone in your company is having too many mental health days, talk with them and see where you can support elsewhere. 
  • Promote achievements and give credit. As the saying goes, a little praise goes a long way. Quarterly one-to-ones don’t lend themselves as a guidepoint for how someone is doing at work. Small wins should be congratulated, the gesture doesn’t need to be grand as this can make other employees feel inadequate. Ensure the feedback is fair and equal amongst the team. You may have a team player better at one skill, while another is better at something else. Allow your team to thrive in the area best known to them and you’ll have a healthier happier collaborative team overall. 
  • Do not discriminate. When educating your staff on mental health it is equally important they understand that a mental health issue can be considered a disability by law if the following apply. 
  • The illness has a substantial adverse effect on the life of the employee.
  • It has been ongoing for at least 12 months.
  • It has an affect on how they carry out day to day tasks, these can be related to their job or also interacting with colleagues. 

What To Do When Someone Is Signed Off With A Mental Health Issue?

supporting colleagues mental health
Full length portrait of contemporary Middle-Eastern man listening to HR manager during job interview in office, copy space
  • Check in regularly. The person signed off won’t want to feel bombarded however it is nice for them to know they work in a caring and safe environment. Don’t call, instead send a short message that will allow for the person to reply in their own time. It also gives an indicator to you as their employer, of how they are feeling. 
  • Invite them to socials. They may be signed off with the inability to carry out work tasks or attend the office but believing someone is well enough to socialise means they can work is not inherently true. It may be that they decline social invites but for receiving the offer does wonders for their mental state.
  • Send gifts or cards. If you’re a close team, you may want to send them gifts or flowers as a gesture that you are there for them. In the same way you’d do so for someone signed off with an injury, a mental illness is no different.
  • Support them when returning to work. Being signed off work means you’re out of the loop on a number of things and a lot can change in a workplace in a matter of weeks. Give them a call before they are due to return, ask if there is anything they need and set up a re-introduction meeting to allow them to feel included and welcomed.  

Supporting An Employee’s Mental Health Day To Day

Typically if someone is suffering with anxiety or stress, being micromanaged causes more harm than good. Don’t be absent, be present. Check in with them informally, if they let you know or you sense they would like to have a discussion, then set up a session to talk privately. Be sure to offer support to the individual by asking if there is anything you can do. Asking for help isn’t always easy when we are suffering inside, however, lending an ear might just be the trigger they need to get help.

3 Steps To Improving Company Culture

positive mental health at work

When assessing mental health in the workplace, there are a few guidelines we believe should be at the forefront of your strategy. 

Mental health should be one of your company’s core values

Once you have approached the situation that you want to promote mental well being in the workplace it is important that you commit to a cohesive plan. Review your strategies regularly and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback amongst your peers. After all, they are the ones who are going to benefit from it. Surveys can be anonymous and they can be a great guide on how to navigate. 

Educate management in mental health 

Management training shouldn’t solely be about managing a team to make profit for the business, it should also be about getting the best out of your team. In doing so, you need mutual respect, understanding and happiness. Support line managers and agree that information should be confidential however it is important their well being is also healthy. Assets to businesses are those who actively want to help with mental health problems, chances are they have their own experiences that have set them up as a trustworthy and compassionate guide. 

Banish Discrimination 

Harassment in the workplace is often done under the radar, however whistleblowing should not be. If you or a colleague notices a discriminative exchange between colleagues in your workplace it is important that it is reported on, therefore encourage staff to do the same whilst reminding them anything reported on will remain confidential. Discrimination doesn’t simply mean discriminating against someone’s race, gender or sexual orientation, it also applies to mental illness.

At Everymind at Work, we’re on a mission to normalise mental health conversations in the workplace. We’re here to help.

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