Top tips for establishing a mentally-healthy workplace

Introducing or refreshing workplace wellbeing policy in line with a whole organisation approach can have huge benefits

Although mental health awareness has improved over the past decade, research shows that 62% of managers put the interests of their organisation above staff wellbeing. But these interests are one and the same. Taking positive action to support health and wellbeing is not just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense too.

Poor management of mental health in the workplace has a big impact on productivity and is one of the top drivers of the 72 million working days lost each year in the UK.

The Centre for Mental Health estimates that mental ill health costs the UK economy £34.9 billion each year. Surely little further evidence is needed to show that mental health should be a top priority in every business.

There are a number of approaches your organisation can take to help transform your workplace and create a mentally-healthy environment. Here are my tips to help you establish a new approach or enhance existing mental health strategies.

Take a ‘whole organisation approach’

Creating a wellbeing strategy that centres on the whole person is fundamental to creating a workplace where mental health really matters. Mental health should be considered as one element alongside others such as physical, financial and emotional wellbeing, which are all connected in a whole person approach.

Taking a ‘whole organisation’ approach is the natural next step. A whole organisation approach is about building the right culture and ensuring a mental health and wellbeing strategy is properly implemented. Attitudes should filter down from leaders and be backed up with clear policies that are well communicated.

This approach means designing the stress out of processes and systems, putting healthy job design first, attending to reasonable adjustments, training, flexible working needs, fair and equal pay – and so much more.

If you’re only just starting out on this journey the government's Thriving at Work report provides a useful roadmap to guide your thinking. It sets out six ‘core standards’ for employers to create a mentally-healthier workplace.

One size doesn’t fit all

Your approach will need to be reflective of the nature of your business and your workforce. Researching the approaches that other organisations in your sector are taking is a valuable exercise and can provide useful insights to help you develop your own strategy.

Get talking

Creating an environment that encourages open conversation around mental health is another important part of developing an effective mental health policy. There are a number of useful guides that exist, such as the Workplace Wellbeing Toolkit, to support organisations taking their first steps. This toolkit gives guidance on raising awareness, sensitising an organisation to talking about mental health, as well as advice on embedding Mental Health First Aid England skills.

Giving staff these tools to support themselves and each other is key to empowering everyone to talk about mental health and seek help when needed. Simply knowing that a listening ear and a supportive conversation is close by can be so powerful in helping someone come forward to access support they may need to recover and stay well.

Put wellbeing at the heart of your talent strategy

Fostering positive health and wellbeing is essential to building a successful and sustainable organisation and can have a range of benefits from improving engagement, recruitment and retention to enabling people to fully develop in their roles. By demonstrating a commitment to effective mental health policies your organisation can attract and retain an engaged and motivated workforce.

Taking action in the new decade

Now is the time to consider the successes and challenges your organisation has faced and how you can take action moving forwards.

From addressing productivity and presenteeism to creating a culture of care, introducing or refreshing workplace wellbeing policy in line with a whole organisation approach can have huge benefits.

Most adults spend at least a third of their time at work, which is why we should all start there to change how society deals with mental health. Now is the perfect time to reflect on your organisation’s approach to mental health and take action. By all doing so we can create a society where everyone’s mental health matters.

Vicki Cockman is workplace lead at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England