Getting Strategic On Mental Health

So much of our lives is spent at work that it is unsurprising to see increasing evidence emerge that shows it can have an enormous impact on our mental wellbeing. Just last month, a survey by CV-Library showed that over a third (35.2%) of the nation’s workers are suffering from mental health issues including anxiety and depression, with 43% admitting that their job is a key contributor to these feelings.

Of course, many of us will have emotional pressures from our personal lives too – relationship stress, financial worries, concerns about children or ageing parents, or simply the day-to-day burden of never having enough time.  It only takes one or two of these factors, either in the workplace or at home, to go awry, and we might find our mental wellbeing suffering.

The smart employer recognises this and seeks to address it – and the savviest are being strategic about it.  We are seeing a rise in the number of clients who are integrating mental wellbeing into their overarching strategy.

So how are they being strategic?   And can your organisation glean any ideas on how to go about it?

Creating A Super-Team

The starting point of a more strategic approach for many organisations is creating cross-functional teams to explore what is needed to support mental wellbeing in their particular workforce. Typically, the functions involved are HR, Health and Safety, and Learning and Development – the functions that are the most commonly affected by any dip in mental health amongst staff.

For HR, the impact is felt in sickness absence figures, which will often rise when mental health is suffering, and, of course, presenteeism where individuals are physically showing up to work but are mentally elsewhere because they are preoccupied with their troubles. Both absence and presenteeism take an inevitable toll on productivity, creativity and outcomes.  And, of course, HR’s place on the team is ensured because the function will almost certainly have existing involvement in organisational wellbeing because of its remit for managing human capital.

Health and Safety join the cross-functional team because accidents are more likely to occur if mental health is poor.  It may be that an individual is finding it hard to sleep because of their worries, that their preoccupation is such that they lose concentration on tasks, or that they are simply less able to deal with the day-to-day stress and busy-ness of a shift – all of these factors put them at increased risk of accidents or mistakes, which may harm their safety or that of others.  It is a concern that is common to the Health and Safety function in many sectors – manufacturing, the NHS, construction, and social care may be very different in nature, but accidents and mistakes can have catastrophic effects in them all.

Finally, Learning and Development is included because this team is expert in training, both from a delivery and strategic perspective.  The function will have a map of existing mental health initiatives that are being offered across an organisation and it may take on the provision of training in mental wellbeing.  That might come in the form of taking a lead with a specialist like The Wellbeing Project, who would deliver an initiative, or it might be the function participates in a ‘Train the Trainer’ programme so that any mental wellbeing activity is delivered in-house.

Mapping Out Provision

The expertise that sits in each of these functions is such that there is great value and power in pulling them together to focus on mental wellbeing.  In combination, they make up a super-team whose components have knowledge and understanding that complement one another and gives a deeper insight into what might be needed.

The next step is mapping out what the organisation requires.

For some clients, this is about making their mental wellbeing programmes more uniform and structured. In organisations that have already taken steps to support mental wellbeing, the provision can be patchy and disjointed – possibly delivered in an ad-hoc manner at some sites, but not others.   Taking a strategic view means that a programme is available to the entire workforce.

Strategy also involves considering the needs of that specific organisation, both in terms of delivery and logistics.

The content, language, pace, and format need to be right for their particular sector and company. The content and delivery that works for a financial institution is likely to differ from a construction firm, which will differ again from a public sector body.

Fine Tuning

In terms of logistics, it is thinking about how a mental wellbeing programme will be delivered.  If an organisation has opted to put in place mental health first aiders – existing members of staff who have been trained to offer timely support to colleagues who are experiencing mental health difficulties – then it is working out how many are needed.  Or it might be pinning down the number of workshops that are delivered to staff or managers and when they can be delivered to minimise disruption to business.

Some organisations introduce modules on mental health awareness to their induction programmes to ensure new starters have the right mindset from the outset.

The third element to an organisation’s strategy is to pilot their offering so that there is an opportunity to fine tune it.   This is where the delivery is tested in terms of content and format to ensure that it meets the need, and is appropriate for the culture of that organisation and sector.  It makes sense that an organisation which is investing significant time, money and energy in a mental wellbeing programme, will ensure the initiative is as effective as possible.

Those who take a strategic approach are likely to find that the return on investment (ROI) will be much greater than organisations that don’t – and that return is likely to be considerable.  An article published in The Lancet showed that a manager mental health training programme had a significant impact on absence, with a ROI of nearly £10 for each pound spent – and that is on absence alone, without considering returns on other metrics.

The business case is clear, which is why a rising number of employers are being proactive and focusing their efforts on being more strategic in this area. If it is not already doing so, isn’t it time that your organisation did the same?

For those who need help in setting a strategy or delivering mental wellbeing programmes, get in touch with us by emailing or telephone +44 (0)800 085 6899 today.


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