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Mental Health in the Modern Workplace

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30 years ago, mental health at work was generally a topic shrouded in taboo, stigma and often ridicule.

Back then, if you tried to start a conversation about the state of mental health in the workplace, or if you openly acknowledged that you had a mental health condition, you would probably be met with raised eyebrows and a few stifled sniggers. People just didn’t talk about it – let alone acknowledge that we all have periods of bad mental health. Society at the time just didn’t treat the subject with the respect it deserved.

Luckily, the days of silence about this subject are over. The vast majority of employers are finally acknowledging the responsibility that they have towards employees when it comes to improving mental health at work. Many organisations are even taking key steps towards improving and safeguarding mental health in the workplace by adopting new policies, strategies and initiatives. 

In this blog, we’ll look at everything you need to know about mental health in the modern workplace as a HR professional. 

What does mental health in the modern workplace mean?

As somewhere where we spend the majority of our waking hours, and an environment that can often be intense, demanding and stressful, the workplace can end up having a particularly damaging impact on our mental health. A report by the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists found that nearly 1 in 7 people experience a mental health problem in the workplace – a truly startling figure that highlights how widespread the problem is.  

The approach to mental health at work varies from country-to-country. In the UK, for instance, employers have a legal ‘duty of care’ towards employees. This means that they must do all they reasonably can to protect and safeguard a person’s physical and mental wellbeing when they’re at work. The law will obviously differ depending on which particular country you are working in. 

Regardless of whether a law mandates it though, looking after the mental health of the people who you work with is important because it’s just the right thing to do. If a business or organisation is truly a responsible one, it will recognise the responsibility that it has towards its employees in terms of looking after their mental health. 

One hand grasping a person's wrist to support them

Why support the mental health of employees? 

Even though we’ve taken huge strides in our approach to mental health at work, not every CEO or senior management team is entirely convinced about why they should care about the mental wellbeing of their employees. The old-fashioned view is that mental health is an individual issue and is the responsibility of the employee rather than the employer. This view doesn’t care about the moral arguments. 

Luckily, there are also a range of other reasons about why organisations should care about the mental health of their employees that are rooted in business pragmatism. Taking an active approach to safeguarding mental wellbeing in the workplace can help:

 1. Reduce employee absences

The World Health Organisation has estimated that around 12 billion (!) working days are lost every year to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Improving the mental health of your employees can help you to reduce absence rates. 

2. Improve employee retention

A survey by CV Library found nearly a half of all respondents had considered leaving their job because of their mental health. If your organisation is wanting to improve employee retention, tackling wellbeing in the workplace is one way you can make a practical difference. 

3. Improve productivity

The same survey found that 89% of respondents felt that poor mental health affected their quality of work. Taking the time to address this can help you improve productivity in the workplace. 

4. Enhance employer reputation

Taking bold steps to look after the mental wellbeing of your employees can help improve your reputation and how customers view your brand. According to 

A man and a woman talking seriously

How can you support mental health in the workplace?

There are a huge number of ways that you can work towards improving the mental health of your workplace – far too many to list here. Here are just a few of the key ways that you can go about improving the mental wellbeing of employees in your own workplace:

  1. Create a dedicated mental health strategy

Whilst creating a new strategy can sometimes seem like making work for the sake of it, when it comes to mental health it’s one of the most important steps you can take. Creating a dedicated mental health strategy will show to the wider business that you are treating the topic with gravity and that this is an issue that concerns everyone at your organisation. A strategy ultimately shows what your business considers a priority and the issues it takes seriously. 

As well as the symbolic benefit, devising a strategy will help you to create specific approaches for how to actually improve mental wellbeing in your workplace, giving you a practical plan to work towards. 

2. Implement an Employee Assistance Programme

Many employers offer some form of mental health support as one of the perks they provide in terms of recruitment and retention. 

Some pay a monthly or annual retainer for an Employee Assistance Programme. These are third-party services that offer employee counselling, referrals and general mental health support resources that employees can access independently of you. Services like these can be accessed anonymously and are at an arm’s length from the employer. 

This obviously improves confidentiality and can improve the confidence that employees have in the independence of the support that you’re provided. Significant stigma still exists around discussing mental health, particularly in a work context where employees might be worried about being discriminated against if they’re honest about the mental health challenges that they’re dealing with. 

3. Train managers in wellbeing support

Managers are on the frontline when it comes to interacting with employees. As a result, they’re well-placed to notice the signs of a mental health crisis or issue with members of their team. 

By equipping managers with the right skills to recognise wellbeing and mental health issues through dedicated training, they’ll be able to provide immediate support to affected employees and direct them to resources and services that can help them. 

Many organisations have adopted the concept of ‘Mental Health First-Aiders’: employees who are specifically trained to identify mental health crises and to provide a form of first-line mental health first aid to employees and show them where to access more specific, targeted help. 

Champion mental health at work and strengthen your organisation

If your organisation hasn’t adopted a mental health strategy already, you’re at serious risk of being left behind. As we get more and more educated about the impact of poor mental health on society, it’s becoming increasingly clear that organisations have an important part to play in safeguarding the wellbeing of the people who work for them.

By taking some of the steps we’ve outlined in this blog you’ll be able to start building an approach to mental health at your organisation that will benefit employees and build a supportive workplace. In the process, it can help you strengthen multiple aspects of your business, from recruitment and retention, to productivity and brand reputation. 

We hope this article has provided you with a good overview of the importance of mental health in the modern workplace. Implement these tips and you’ll help to build a workplace that really does look after its employees. 

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