People and processesThe importance of a mentally healthy workplace (and the public sector organisation leading the way)

The importance of a mentally healthy workplace (and the public sector organisation leading the way)

To mark World Mental Health Day (10 October), Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind talks to us about the current situation regarding mental health in the workplace and the charity’s work to create a mentally healthy workspace

What should World Mental Health Day mean to organisations all over the world?

World Mental Health Day (WMHD) is an opportunity for organisations everywhere to demonstrate that the mental health of their employees is a priority. We’ve heard from lots of organisations that will be hosting awareness-raising events such as talks and panel discussions on various topics related to mental health, as well as offering free wellbeing activities, such as meditation and yoga.

Awareness days can be really helpful when it comes to drawing attention to issues like mental health. However, given that everyone has mental health, and every employer in the UK has a legal duty to provide reasonable adjustments for employers whose mental health problem meets the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010, we want to see employers strive to create mentally healthy workplaces all year round, not just on 10 October.

Can you cite any examples of companies who are particularly progressive when it comes to mental health?

Since its launch in 2016, Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index has surveyed employees across the UK. Last year we surveyed over 44,000 employees across 74 diverse organisations from not-for-profits and schools, such as CancerCare and Dr Challoner’s Grammar School, to corporate firms, such as LSI Architects LLP and RBC Wealth Management.

For the past two years, the Environment Agency (EA) topped the board in recognition of their efforts to promote good mental health at work. Awareness-raising and special training is available to help staff and line managers spot the warning signs and know where to find support. They also have a network run by staff, for staff where people can speak openly, connect and be signposted to helpful resources (click here to read more about the EA’s activities).

In Wales, the latest Workplace Wellbeing Index champion was Companies House. They have a team of Mental Health Advocates, who offer information and support to staff and managers at the organisation, and an employee blog where people can discuss their own mental health. They have also revised their returning to work policies and given managers additional training regarding the disclosure of mental health conditions, among other practices.

At Mind we are proud to employ a high volume of staff who have personal experience of mental health problems. We have a mental health at work policy and all employees are offered the opportunity by their line managers to have a Wellness Action Plan put in place to help identify what keeps individual staff members well and likely triggers of stress or ill health at work, to help managers know the signs to look out for and detail what support could be put in place if needed. We also have a 24-hour employee assistance programme, a buddy system, cycle to work scheme, competitive pensions, childcare vouchers, flexible working hours and “Mind days” – an extra six days of holiday a year on top of the regular 25. In addition, there are subsidised yoga, Pilates, boxercise and mindfulness sessions.

How would you advise leaders to mentor others about mental health at work?

A good first step for employers – particularly line managers and HR professionals – is to make sure they help create a culture where employees feel they can raise issues about their mental health and will be met with a supportive response. Regular catch-ups with managers and anonymous staff surveys can be a good way to start this process.

Wellness Action Plans (WAPs) are also a simple, useful tool that can be found on the new Mental Health at Work gateway, a free website funded by the Royal Foundation and developed by Mind, with support from 11 other organisations. Jointly drawn up by managers and staff, WAPs help facilitate conversations about mental health, and identify unique triggers for poor mental health and what helps people stay well. It’s also key for leaders to role model healthy working habits and behaviours, such as taking their proper breaks, leaving work on time and taking time off if they are unwell, physically or mentally.

Other ways to send a message to your staff that they are valued is to invest in their wellbeing. Practical solutions such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), flexible working hours, buddy systems, subsidised gym membership and exercise classes, cycle to work schemes and season ticket loans can all make a big difference.

Mental health is sometimes stigmatised, are there simple solutions to changing these perceptions?

One of the best ways to combat the stigma still associated with mental health is to openly talk about the issue. When one person feels confident enough to speak about their own mental health, others can be inspired to do the same and it helps to normalise the issue. It’s important to remember that if you’re struggling with poor mental health, you’re not alone. Our research at Mind has found that around half of us (48 per cent) have experienced a mental health problem in our current job. Unfortunately, only half of those who had experienced poor mental health said they had talked to their employer about it, suggesting that as many as one in four UK workers is struggling in silence.

We want employees at every level to be able to talk about these issues, from senior leaders to more junior members of staff. Disclosing personal experiences still depends on the culture of the organisation – we want all employees to feel able to come forward, knowing they’ll be met with support and understanding, rather than stigma and discrimination. Progress is being made here, with a growing movement of more than 800 employers in England having signed the Time to Change employer pledge. This is an excellent start on the journey to creating mentally healthy workplaces, with FTSE 100 companies, leading retailers, government departments and local authorities all signing the pledge.

What changes would Mind like to see within organisations in the coming years?

It’s positive that an increasing number of businesses are proactively promoting staff mental health and wellbeing, and we hope this encourages even more to do the same. Making changes to organisational cultures don’t happen overnight – it’s a journey towards creating a mentally healthy workplace.

While it can take time to introduce new policies, even making small changes can make a difference. For example, letting an employee know that it’s OK to take time off work due to problems with their mental health, as they would with their physical health, can help to provide space to recover. And ensuring managers feel they are skilled, confident and equipped enough to talk to staff members about their mental health needs can begin a dialogue and increase a sense of wellbeing.

It’s been a year since the independent, government-commissioned employment review ‘Thriving at Work’ was published in October 2017. This review highlighted some startling statistics, including that every year, around 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their job in the UK. The cost of poor mental health to the economy is estimated to be between £74 billion and £99 billion a year. The government accepted all the recommendations made, committing to take steps as employers to promote mental wellbeing at work, with positive implications for those that work within the NHS and the civil service, among others. We’re monitoring and supporting employers – including government – when it comes to implementing the core and enhanced standards that were identified as underpinning good mental health at work.

It’s also very important that senior staff openly see mental health at work as a priority. This can help to properly embed policies throughout organisations without the appearance of them simply being tokenistic or ‘box-ticking’.

  • This interview was originally conducted for our sister publication HRD Connect

Related Articles

Culture eats transformation for breakfast: Part III – Building a culture that supports ongoing change

Change Management Culture eats transformation for breakfast: Part III – Building a culture that supports ongoing change

4d Guest Writer
Topping the Workplace Wellbeing Index (Case study)

People and processes Topping the Workplace Wellbeing Index (Case study)

2w Austin Clark
13 ways to recruit tech talent to the public sector

Future Workforce 13 ways to recruit tech talent to the public sector

2w Austin Clark
The need for public sector to upskill workforce revealed in new report

Digital Skills The need for public sector to upskill workforce revealed in new report

2w Austin Clark
Report outlines ways to tackle digital inclusion

Digital Skills Report outlines ways to tackle digital inclusion

3w Austin Clark
Career Moves - Dorset, Falkirk, Scottish Police Authority and more

People and processes Career Moves - Dorset, Falkirk, Scottish Police Authority and more

4w Amy Mason
Breakfast Club gets to the heart of creating a culture of success

Change Management Breakfast Club gets to the heart of creating a culture of success

4w Austin Clark
Managing people, building trust, delivering success

Future Workforce Managing people, building trust, delivering success

4w Austin Clark