At a time when walking meetings, standing desks, and office squash leagues are all ‘cool’ things for businesses to do for their staff’s physical well-being, it’s easy to overlook mental health as an equally important consideration.

Unfortunately, mental health still has an air of taboo around it which employers need to address if they’re to attract and retain happy and healthy employees. However, with 42% of employees considering resigning from workplace stress, and 30% of staff feeling unable to talk openly with their superiors about being stressed at work, it’s clear that failing to provide enough support can be costly for companies.

So what can employers and managers do to ensure their workplace is mentally healthy?

Take stock of your current mental health provisions

The first thing to check is what you’re doing at the moment to support the mental wellbeing of your employees. Review your culture, practices, and procedures by asking questions like:

  •      Is mental health a topic that your staff feel they could discuss with you or with colleagues?
  •      Is there a normal way for employees to raise issues they might be having?
  •      Do you know of any employees with a mental health problem and are they receiving sufficient support?
  •      Is mental health supported as a key workplace commitment by the top management of the organisation?
  •      Is your company an enjoyable, open, and comfortable place to work?

Talk to your staff

Once you’ve got an idea of what you’re doing well and what needs work, the next step is to judge its effectiveness. Have open conversations with all your staff – if they need to be anonymous, that’s fine to start with as you collect information. Find out what they think of the workplace culture, how well they’re supported, and what’s a real source of stress or anxiety.

As conversations continue, actively work to make mental health an everyday topic of conversation. Your employees should feel as comfortable discussing mental health as they would be with any other aspect of their lives, from their pets and hobbies to their career aspirations.

Aim to minimise stress

The sooner you commit to improving mental health provision, the better—such initiatives have been shown, through reduced absences and increased productivity, to offer savings of over eight times their initial investment.

Many improvements don’t even require financial investment, as simple thought and effort can go a long way. Evaluating each staff member’s role is often a good starting point. Employees are likely to enjoy a better experience if they have clarity on their responsibilities and expectations, a manageable workload, sufficient responsibility to promote personal growth, and recognition for their achievements.

Put a support system in place

As well as making improvements to your office culture aimed at reducing stress and preventing issues, you should have clear processes in place for how to identify, monitor, and adjust to mental health problems your employees might have or develop. There are many ways problems can be identified, from one to one discussions with employees on their mental health, to group health check-ups and wellness surveys.

When discussing someone’s mental health, there are no set rules; it’s like any conversation. However, you can make sure staff feel comfortable by choosing a quiet and neutral location, listening well, maintaining confidentiality, knowing the procedures, and encouraging or helping them to seek support.

For dealing with mental health problems, your company should have clear systems in place. Know how absences are handled with HR, agree a frequency of contact for those off work, and have policies for adopting phased returns and workplace adjustments if needed.

Keep checking!

While making sure you have a healthy workplace may seem daunting, remember that every small improvement will help. As you implement changes, keep staff informed of them and constantly seek feedback on how new processes are working.

Encourage mental health as a topic of conversation as much as you can in all contexts; the more you can normalise it, the more comfortable staff will be in raising any issues. Don’t assume that your employees are fine because no one has yet spoken up. More than one in seven employees has mental health problems in the workplace, so don’t let issues lie silently. If you keep the conversation going, you’ll see improvements in no time.

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