Four steps for employers to tackle mental ill-health at work

Get the topic into 'every single one-to-one, every single agenda, every day' say experts at the Not a Red Card Forum

Mental health and wellbeing is an increasingly critical issue for businesses, and for government too – Philip Hammond announced in Monday's budget that mental health services are to be given a £2bn a year boost. 

Mental wellbeing was on the agenda for delegates at Legal & General’s second Not a Red Card Forum this week. Experts stressed that poor employee mental health continued to be a drain on organisations. And four experts from businesses across the UK gave specific insight into how to ‘rip the red card’ of stigma around mental health at work.

Commit to talking about mental health at work 

Paulette Cohen, head of diversity and inclusion at Barclays, said jobseekers were actively looking for employers who demonstrate they are committed to talking openly about mental health. She added that organisations which offer flexible working opportunities and are “making some progress, both in contributing to society and how things are changing” were increasingly attractive to candidates. 

Cohen said Barclays focuses on how it brings in fresh talent and has the goal of being the “most accessible and inclusive business in the FTSE 100”.

“To do that, we need to focus on supporting people’s mental and physical wellbeing in the workplace,” she said. “For us, it isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s also about making business sense because we want the best talent in our organisation so we need to provide those opportunities for people.” 

Support line managers to have open conversations around wellbeing

Line managers are the “squeezed middle”, said Vanessa Sallows, Legal & General’s benefits and governance director (group protection). She said it was important for employers to provide support and training to line managers and middle managers, who are often the first call for employees experiencing mental ill-health

“It’s very much about having those open conversations so they’re actually encouraging a healthy employment and working environment,” Sallows said. 

She added that employers needed to support their line managers to “open up conversations” around mental health so they can discuss wellbeing on a regular basis – not just mid-year or at end-of-year performance reviews.

Share your insights with peers and competitors

Employers should share their insights and ideas on tackling mental health stigmas, said Farimah Darbyshire, communications manager at City Mental Health Alliance. She encouraged employers to speak about their experiences with mental health at work with peers and across sectors.

“No one has the solutions within an organisation on their own,” Darbyshire said. “So you need to be sharing knowledge with competitors, what good practice is, because that will lift the whole industry.”

She added that employers should continue to invest in training, but encouraged them to talk to and learn from peers.

Create incremental culture change in your business

Mark Hashimi, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, said the biggest challenge for businesses around workplace mental health was consistency. 

“If we just tick off a plan from a list or attend a one-day training [event], then we’re not necessarily going to change how we think about things,” Hashimi said. He suggested employers need to “build habits” at work and encouraged people to “get mental health into every single one-to-one, every single agenda, every day”. 

“It doesn’t have to be extensive or expensive – it can be small steps,” Hashimi said. “But repetition is the mother of all habit, and it’s about doing this until it becomes culture.”  

The conference came as a survey suggested almost half (44 per cent) of UK bosses felt forced to compromise their health and wellbeing as a result of work pressures. Vistage, a peer mentoring organisation, found a quarter (24 per cent) of business leaders sought outside support to help cope with work-related stress. 

According to the research, only one in 10 (12 per cent) would always prioritise their health and wellbeing over their work.