Why every day should be World Mental Health Day at work

Employees’ psychological wellbeing should be a focus for organisations all year round, not just on awareness days, argues Paula Allen

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With World Mental Health Day having been marked last week, many employers will have been considering the ways they can provide support for their employees and prioritise their mental health and wellbeing. While the day brings attention to the issue of mental health, the most important thing is for mental health and wellbeing to be a priority every day. 

For employees to feel supported, they need to feel comfortable in the workplace and confident that there is a lack of stigma around any mental health and wellbeing challenges that may occur. Stigma remains an issue, and one that adds to anxieties and prevents people from seeking even confidential support.   

We also know that our collective mental health has declined. Two in five (39 per cent) working Britons have a high mental health risk, which is up significantly when compared to 2019. We are also more sensitive to stress, which shows itself in anger, cynicism and conflict. With all of this, we still have a challenge in people delaying or avoiding support. As noted, this is in part down to stigma, but it is also a result of a lack of awareness that waiting until an issue is ‘bad enough’ means that issue will likely become more complicated and harder to address later. As well, any time spent waiting for resolution means time when quality of life is not where it could be. 

Awareness of resources is another area of concern. Many employees are not aware that their organisation offers confidential professional mental health and work-life support through an employee assistance programme (EAP). EAPs provide support 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Moreover, having one demonstrates the care and concern the organisation has for employee wellbeing. 

EAPs also offer manager training, which helps leaders support a healthy environment as well as how and when to step in when an employee is showing signs of strain. Both are important to the functioning of a team, and acquiring the skills through training prevents undue stress on managers who want to be helpful but, like most of us, simply have no education in this area.

In addition to confidential personal mental health support, the workplace environment can also play a role in mental wellbeing. Flexibility, psychological safety, being valued and the experience of belonging are all drivers of mental wellbeing. Mental health is an everyday issue, and a critical one for both quality of life and productive workplaces, and one well within our ability to improve.

Paula Allen is global leader and senior vice president of research and total wellbeing at LifeWorks