Promote, protect and support: Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace

Sally Campbell outlines how employers can incorporate mental health into their wellbeing plans

There are as many mental health strategies in Britain’s workplaces as there are businesses. There is definitely no ‘one size fits all’ plan that ticks the box of wellbeing. Each mental health strategy has to be unique so that it is moulded to meet the needs of the organisation. Successful strategies are those that come out of listening to employees, engaging leaders and connecting both in their aim to promote healthy supportive environments.

The starting point has to be leaders who genuinely believe in the importance and value of good mental health in the workplace, as well as employees who feel a connection with their organisation.

Simple steps
Promoting mental health in the workplace doesn’t have to be complicated. Getting the basic principles right will go a long way towards establishing long lasting values around wellbeing in the workplace. A good place to start is to consider ‘five ways to wellbeing’, a series of actions individuals can take to improve their mental health wellbeing, set out by the New Economics Foundation. These are: Connect; Be active; Take notice; Keep learning; and Give. These five simple evidence-based principles can be used to underpin a holistic workplace strategy for mental health and wellbeing.

Fostering an environment in which individuals feel a strong connection to their organisation is beneficial on many levels. This connection can be key to individual wellbeing, and employee engagement is a fundamental part of successful mental health and wellbeing strategies in the workplace. Positive promotion of the mental health strategy through campaigns and role modelling can aid engagement, as will leaders who are prepared to do what they say they will, and are willing to share their personal lived experiences. 

Line managers who are enabled to ask about and understand the mental health of their teams at appraisals and one to ones will connect with their team. This increases opportunities to identify problems early and offer support and guidance. Connection happens when people have time and opportunity to build relationships. Encouraging employees to take lunch away from desks and engage in social activities promotes connection between colleagues ¬– a simple but important way to foster a connected environment. Enabling employees to switch off and spend time with their family and friends promotes solid relationships outside of the workplace – an important factor in good mental health.

A holistic approach
The link between physical and mental health is well established. Subsidised gym memberships, running clubs or team games are among great ways to promote health at work and healthy living, as well as developing the feeling of connection within an organisation.

Organisations can choose to make opportunities for employees to take notice of their environment. This might be encouraging and supporting individuals to take a short break, to walk with their colleagues, or to practise skills such as mindfulness through organised group sessions. Apps guiding mindfulness and meditation techniques are likely to be attractive to younger, tech-savvy employees.

Education and training can facilitate a culture of learning about good mental health in the workplace and bring about a shift in attitudes and values. Mental Health First Aid training increases awareness and knowledge, as well as giving staff the tools to offer support and guidance. An internal resource should be available, offering information and sources of support for mental health conditions. The learning of self-help strategies such as meditation and yoga, as well as wider learning – for example, languages – can increase feelings of wellbeing.

It is becoming increasingly important to individuals that the organisation they work for is closely aligned to their own principles and values in life. Employers with strong community links and a commitment to working with local charities can be viewed not only as ethical, but also as able to foster wellbeing among their employees.

The mental health of employees should be a fixed agenda item at every board meeting. Once a mental health strategy is in place, progress needs to be measured and tracked using data from staff surveys, work-related mental health conditions, absenteeism and use of an employee assistance programme. Activities should evolve, using the metrics collated for a dynamic responsive strategy.

Further reading

Read Sally’s white paper ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace’ 

Sally Campbell is head of clinical development at Healix Health Services.

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