This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual campaign run by the Mental Health Foundation.

When it comes to mental health in the workplace, HSE statistics for 2020/21 show that stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health cases. Such statistics highlight how important it is for employers to recognise the impact that mental ill health can have on their workforce and to take a proactive approach to mental wellbeing within their organisations.

What can employers do to promote mental wellbeing?

Mental ill health can be related to problems inside or outside the workplace. Regardless of the cause, employers can take a proactive approach towards mental wellbeing – below are some examples.

Increase awareness and understanding of mental health

  • Understand what mental ill health encompasses and assess the risks of work-related stress or other mental ill health issues affecting your workforce. This will help to plan the best strategy for the organisation.
  • Be aware of your legal obligations, such as the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers.
  • Educate staff on mental health to help change outdated perceptions. This could involve training management teams on how to deal with mental ill health issues; appointing mental health first-aiders; and ensuring all staff are provided with mental health awareness information, including details of available support.
  • Encourage open conversations about mental ill health to help create an environment where employees feel able to discuss their concerns. Often individuals with diagnosed mental health conditions do not inform their employers of their diagnosis which contributes to increased levels of presenteeism.
  • Consider creating a dedicated mental health policy.

Create a flexible work environment

Consider taking steps to promote a more flexible working environment by, for example, being flexible about start and end times and encouraging agile, home or hybrid working where appropriate. Even making small adjustments can help to get the best from staff and can be particularly beneficial to workers with young families or other caring commitments.

Deal with any statutory flexible working requests reasonably, bearing in mind that decisions on flexible working can give rise to discrimination claims.

Keep in touch

It's important for managers to keep in touch and stay connected with their teams, particularly given the rise in hybrid working in many workplaces, as full teams are less likely to all be in the office together on a daily basis. This will help your employees to feel supported, reduce feelings of isolation and hopefully they will feel more able to raise any concerns that they have.

Regularly review workloads

Regularly monitor the working hours and volume of work being carried out by individual workers. This will help identify when workers may be overburdened and potentially reduce risks of burn-out and stress early on.

Promote / consider implementing wellbeing initiatives

Let workers know about any wellbeing initiatives you have in place (e.g. employee assistance services, running clubs, yoga classes, subsidised gym members, lunch tokens, cycle to work schemes etc.) and their potential benefits. This could include advertising initiatives on workplace intranets, having posters around the office, as well as ensuring new starts are provided with information as part of their induction process.

If there are currently no wellbeing initiatives in place, consider the feasibility of introducing some, and their potential benefits.

No one size fits all approach

How best to promote mental wellbeing may differ depending on the type of organisation and the relevant industry. It is worth taking some time to consider the most effective way to implement and promote any new policies and practices to ensure your business and staff get the most out of them.