How businesses can improve mental health in the workplace

In the lead up to Mental Health Awareness Week, Daniel Stander outlines key things organisations can embed into their wellbeing strategy to support employees

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May) is ‘nature’ – something that many will have turned to for reassurance and solace during what has been an incredibly challenging year. This year’s campaign provides organisations with an opportunity to talk about all aspects of workplace mental health and share stories about how nature can support wellbeing, with a focus on providing help and advice.

In spite of the progress made in recent years in breaking down stigmas and discrimination surrounding mental health, recent data by Mental Health First Aid England revealed that 25 per cent of employees had not had a single wellbeing check-in since the pandemic began. This sobering figure demonstrates just how much there is still to do if we are to provide employees with a safe place of work from a mental health perspective. 

Relieve the pressure

A recent study found that employees have increased their working week by almost 25 per cent since March 2020. For many who have been working remotely during this time, the removal of the daily commute has meant logging on earlier, working through lunches, and working parents have had the added pressure of childcare responsibilities alongside their professional obligations.

While for some the pandemic has meant they have had more time with family and to do hobbies, others have assumed an ‘always on’ culture, as the boundaries between their professional and personal lives disintegrate. It is no surprise then that 92 per cent of HR leaders worry that increases in working time are putting employees at risk of burnout.

There has been much debate around introducing a legal right to disconnect to help tackle burnout. Employers who wish to retain a competitive edge, and not risk losing key talent to rivals, are recommended to get ahead of the curve. This means working to embed pre-emptive action points in the business wellbeing strategy such as, checking in on individuals who appear to be struggling or consistently burning the midnight oil, encouraging the taking of annual leave, and training line managers on how to communicate effectively, set reasonable deadlines and support their direct reports to enable work expectations to be delivered during working hours. 

Invest in training

Effective training for line managers in mental health should be treated as a priority. Organisations should ensure that managers are adequately trained and equipped to be able to empathetically lean into sensitive and difficult conversations, identify signs that someone in their team may be struggling, understand what internal and external supports are available and to effectively manage a situation before it worsens.

Think creatively

There has been an increasing trend in businesses seeking creative solutions to show their workforces that they ‘get it’ regarding wellbeing. 

Household names such as Timpsons, Brewdog, LinkedIn, Channel 4 and Kelloggs have worked to promote positive mental health and inclusive cultures and are actively seeking to avoid collective burnout as a result of the pandemic by introducing better workplace supports for their mental health first aiders or champions. This includes, Zoom-free or no-meeting days, regular therapy sessions for employees, company ‘wellness days’, EAPs with a holistic approach, and regular care packages to help demonstrate that good mental health is not just for awareness weeks, but is instead central to the company’s identity.

Daniel Stander is an employment lawyer and certified mental health first aider at Vedder Price LLP