How to create a mentally healthy workplace

A practical guide to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of working people

Mental wellbeing is on the decline, and as the shockwave of Covid-19 continues to be felt, this trend is increasing. According to The Centre for Mental Health, up to 10 million people (almost 20% of the population) in the UK will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the crisis.

The risks are clear. The cost of poor mental health, even before the pandemic, had rocketed to £45 billion a year for UK employers (Deloitte), and the human cost is equally significant.

No longer a nice to have, a robust strategy for employee mental health and wellbeing is increasingly recognised as vital for business success. Whether you are figuring out where to start or are looking for ways to develop your existing initiatives, our guide for creating a mentally healthy workplace will give you the inspiration you need to drive lasting change.

1. Align with your organisational strategy
2. Consider the full continuum of mental health
3. Challenge mental health stigma
4. Focus on prevention

1. Align your workplace mental health programme with the organisational strategy

To move away from tick box mental health initiatives requires a bigger vision. As you look to develop a mentally healthy workforce, spend some time considering what you hope to achieve.

  • What would success look like?
  • How does this align with your organisation’s broader strategy, vision and values?
  • How would it support individuals, teams, managers and the larger organisation?

Once you have done this, take time to audit what is currently happening:

  • What policies, initiatives and aspects of the organisational culture are already in place to support your intended outcome?
  • Which aspects might need more work?

As you implement your mental health strategy, continue to check-in at regular intervals to ensure that your actions are still aligned. Culture change is not easy, not perfect and is an ongoing process of incremental gains. Keeping one eye on the big picture will help to maintain momentum, and keep you moving forward in the right direction.

45 billion

Poor mental health costs up to £45 billion a year for UK employers (Deloitte)

2. Consider the full continuum of mental health

Mental health exists on a continuum, and at each stage people have very different needs.

The continuum of mental health

As you develop your workplace mental health strategy, consider the following 3 groups:

  • Those who are struggling and need specialist medical/professional support
  • Those who experience dips in their mental health and who can learn how to proactively respond to the early warning signs
  • Those who can build on their wellbeing to develop thriving resilience

Fortunately, it has never been easier to gain robust data insight into workplace wellbeing and resilience. Wellbeing audits and psychometric assessments can give you the information you need to prioritise initiatives and achieve maximum ROI.

10 million

people in the UK will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the crisis (The Centre for Mental Health)

3. Challenge mental health stigma

In 2020, Antonio Horta-Osorio, the Group Chief Executive of Lloyds Banking spoke openly about his own struggles with mental health as he led the bank through recovery from the financial crisis. He warned that organisations that fail to take the mental health of their people seriously risk “breaking employees’ lives and families”.

Testimonials such as these from leaders of organisations have started to normalise open conversations about mental health in the workplace. But there is still a way to go. Research carried out by Business in the Community in 2019 found that only 51% of employees felt comfortable talking about mental health issues in the workplace whilst 39% had experienced poor mental health due to work, or where work was a contributing factor, in the previous year.

To challenge ongoing mental health stigma in the workplace requires a top-down-bottom- up approach that involves employees, teams, managers and senior leaders. Consider the following strategies:

  • Introduce mental health awareness programmes for all employees
  • Train managers to hold wellbeing conversations with their teams
  • Develop a team of Mental Health First Aiders to provide targeted support to employees
  • Encourage senior leaders to raise mental health and wellbeing at a strategic level

Average ROI of investment in workplace mental health (Deloitte)

4. Focus on prevention

When an employee is unable to work due to mental health challenges, the human and business cost is considerable. Employee Assistance Programmes and professional mental health services provide invaluable specialist support at these times, and historically, this has been the main focus of investment.

Research is now showing the parallel importance of prevention. According to Deloitte, workplace mental health programmes that focus on prevention and build employee resilience have the highest ROI (up to 11:1). The business case for proactively supporting employee wellbeing is clear.

Consider the following proactive strategies:

  • Form a workplace wellbeing focus group with stakeholders from across the business
  • Bring managers and leaders together to share team resilience best practice
  • Train health and wellbeing champions to take the lead in promoting health and wellbeing
  • Educate and enable individuals, teams and leaders to take control of their wellbeing with resilience training and shared resources

ROI of workplace mental health programmes that focus on prevention and build employee resilience (Deloitte)

Start somewhere

The research is clear: a mentally healthy workplace is good for people and good for the organisation. It doesn’t happen overnight, and you don’t need to have it all worked out from the start. So, identify some key priorities and make a start. And, if you’d like to talk through your specific challenges, and get some expert advice and support, get in touch:

Back to news page