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Nine ways to ensure a mentally healthy workplace

By Barney Ely, Director of Hays Human Resources

Approximately 1 in 6 people of working age will be affected by a mental health condition in any given week, according to the mental health charity Mind. As an issue that affects millions of us, it should be considered part of an employer’s ethical responsibility to cultivate a workplace environment that is supportive of anyone experiencing a mental health condition.

With that in mind, here are some simple things that organisations can do to ensure a mentally healthy workplace:

1. Establish a culture that is open, inclusive and accepting

This is something that needs to be emphasised from your first point of contact with a candidate, and maintained throughout their time with you as an employee. Many professionals may believe there is still a stigma around mental health issues, and worry that speaking up will negatively impact their career. From the offset, you should make it clear that any mental health issue they wish to discuss will always be treated with confidentiality, respect and understanding, never intolerance. Implementing this cultural change may be something of a lengthy process, but as openness about the subject becomes more commonplace staff will find it easier to be honest about their mental health, meaning that support can be provided much earlier.

2. Make a positive work-life balance a priority for all

The stresses and pressures of balancing work with the demands of your personal life can often result in employees feeling overwhelmed or even cause them to burnout. Ensuring that a positive balance is promoted by implementing effective practices to combat stress – such as flexible working policies, or limited email hours –demonstrates a commitment to employee wellbeing, particularly if more senior employees are shown to take advantage of these practices when they are available. Your workforce needs to know that the use of these is encouraged and they won’t be judged for doing so.

3. Set the tone from the very top

Leaders have a responsibility to champion good mental health in the workplace. By showing that they are committed to creating a culture that is both understanding and supportive of their employees, they help break the stigma of being open about mental health issues at work and set the tone for the rest of the organisation. This can be as simple as a blog or similar internal communication from the CEO.

4. Ensure middle management is equipped to help

Middle management is on the front line when it comes to enacting wider policies for creating a mentally healthy workplace, as they will be having the most frequent, quality conversations with individual employees about how they are coping. Help your line managers by providing access to training programmes which allow them to recognise the early signs of a mental health condition. Ensure you follow up afterwards to check that they have taken the training on board and understand how to apply it as part of their day to day management role. Take care not to add too much to their already busy roles – they cannot be expected to become mental health experts overnight, but instead can flag when they think there is an issue and highlight the support available to the employee.

5. Factor mental health into your wider HR practices

Mental health is an issue that permeates a number of HR policies and practices. It is advisable to take a step back and think: “How do we promote wellbeing in all our policies? Do we have certain practices that may be impacted by, or causing, mental health issues?” An obvious example of this is around disciplinary procedures. Just as mental health can have an impact on performance, someone’s performance being under review can have an impact on their mental health. It is important to understand this intersectionality of people management processes and wellbeing.

6. Work conversations don’t always have to be about work

Review meetings should be an opportunity to have a holistic conversation – not simply ensuring that work is getting done but gauging an employee’s overall wellbeing. Of course, this extends beyond review meetings. All work conversations don’t need to be limited in their scope. Taking the time to ask someone how their day is going, sharing a joke or having a quick chat by the photocopier could make the world of difference to how someone is feeling, and creates yet more spaces for employees to raise issues that may be affecting them.

7. Create wellness action plans

Sometimes, tangible and practical support is called for. If an employee discloses that they are suffering from a mental health issue, then developing a tailored action plan can help them manage both their workload and their condition better. These actions could be as simple as scheduling weekly catch-ups to help prioritise workloads, offering flexible working or introducing mentoring schemes.

8. Provide the right forums for all your employees to have a voice…

Feeling that our work is meaningful, and that our professional contributions are valued by our employers is intrinsically linked with higher wellbeing and employee engagement. Therefore, a crucial element of ensuring a mentally healthy overall workplace culture is creating an environment where employees feel their voice is being heard, on all issues. This can be achieved by actively soliciting feedback and ideas at all levels through organisation wide surveys, ensuring regular 1:1 meetings with line managers or organising regular round table discussion groups where employees of different levels come together to discuss a range of workplace ideas.

9. …and act on what they say

It is vital, however, not only to provide forums for your employees to talk, but to listen to their ideas and act on them. Even better is to celebrate the employee ideas that are actioned and successful, as this will show that yours truly is an organisation that is investing in their workforce, and believes that everyone’s contributions are valued – whilst also contributing to increased morale and productivity.

The success of any organisation is dependent on having a healthy, happy and productive workforce. Prioritising mental health within the wider umbrella of your organisation’s wellbeing initiatives should not just be a consideration for the socially-conscious employer, but the business-conscious one too.

To find out more, or to discuss your employment needs in this field, please contact your local consultant.

About this author

Barney joined Hays in 1993 as a business graduate and is now Director for Hays Human Resources. Barney also has operational responsibility for Hays offices across the South of England, placing professionals in over 20 industry sectors covering everything from accountancy and finance to construction, IT education and healthcare.

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