How best to support employees’ mental health in the workplace

Businesses continue to find it difficult to tackle poor employee mental health in the workplace. Especially when external factors stack up – like the cost-of-living crisis and the pandemic – the impact on employees’ personal lives can easily spill into the workplace.

But external pressures aren’t the only reason we’re seeing mental health issues rise at work. A Deloitte survey found that 28% of employees have either left in 2021 or are planning to leave their jobs in 2022, with 61% citing poor mental health as the reason they are leaving.

It’s clear that workplaces that don’t provide support for employee mental health are going to increasingly find themselves on the back foot when it comes to staff recruitment and retention – not to mention the impact poor mental health has on performance, productivity, attendance, and more.

Mental health support at work can keep job satisfaction up, drive productivity, and prevent burnout. It’s not just a ‘nice-to-have’, either – you’re legally required under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to ensure your employees’ health, safety and wellbeing, which includes stress and mental health.

So, here’s our top tips for effectively supporting mental health in the workplace.


Why it’s important to support mental health in the workplace

Recruitment and retention

Supporting mental health in the workplace can lead to higher rates of recruitment and retention. More and more, candidates are looking at mental health support – such as counselling services, employee assistance programmes, and mental health champions – as a big motivator for joining (and staying with) a business.

As we’ve said, the same applies to retaining staff. If a workplace doesn’t offer sufficient mental health support, employees may look to move to a business that does – even if they haven’t personally suffered from a mental health condition. It can have a big impact on their perception of the workplace culture, and their own work-life balance.

Improved performance

By supporting your staff’s mental health, you could see performance improve. It could help reduce work-related stress, boost motivation, and help them to put methods and processes in place to manage their mental health and stay productive.

Reduced presenteeism

Presenteeism is when employees attend work but aren’t productive or performing as usual, normally due to factors like illness and stress. The annual cost to employers of absence due to mental health-related presenteeism (people coming to work when ill) is higher than the cost of absence, estimated at between £17 billion and £26 billion in the UK.

Think of physical illness – employees usually can’t perform to their normal standards if they’re sick. The same goes for poor mental health. If they’re struggling with something like depression, stress, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, their performance will inevitably be affected. So addressing this with easily-accessible support is the best way to get (and keep) them fit and healthy.

Remember, mental health support shouldn’t just be a reactive measure – helping to address and treat existing mental health issues. To be most effective, it should be proactive and help prevent issues developing in the first place.


Mental health at work best-practices for employers

Risk assessments

Stress risk assessments are something you’re legally required to do as an employer – just like you would do one for a piece of machinery.

But how do you do them?

First, you should identify the stress hazards and identify the required controls. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has six specific stress management standards which should be considered:

  • Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment
  • Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work
  • Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues
  • Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour
  • Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles
  • Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation

By conducting stress risk assessments, you can reduce work-related stress and address any factors in the workplace that may be contributing to it. To learn more about completing stress risk assessments, simply download our free guide!

A beginner’s guide to stress risk assessments (FREE GUIDE)

This beginner’s guide, created by our Health & Safety experts, will take you through the essentials you need to know about tackling workplace stress.

Download the guide

Meet with employees you’re concerned about

If you or a manager are concerned about the mental health of any of your employees, it’s a good idea to meet with them. If they’re willing to discuss the issue they’re facing, then you can help support them by putting an appropriate plan in place – such as a Wellness Action Plan. It’s important to remember not to pressure them to share reasons why they’re feeling the way they do, but to assure them that you will support them.

A workplace that embodies a culture where employees feel able to talk to their employers about mental health can be extremely valuable. Employees suffering from mental ill-health then know they can get help from their employer, whether involving Occupational Health to identify ways the business can support them, allowing them time off, or resolving the issue if it’s related to the workplace.

Wellness Action Plans

Wellness Action Plans can be very effective for supporting employees’ mental health at work. They’re designed to identify what causes their mental health to decline and how this impacts their performance at work. These findings can then be used to decide how the employer can support them in these areas – for example, more rest breaks, or support with their workload.

Employee Assistance Programmes

Mental health at work can also be supported with an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). This can be an essential, 24/7 support service for individuals who need to talk to an external person or specialist about their mental health or wellbeing – anything from mental health issues to financial problems.


How can management support their employees?

A better workplace environment and a positive, proactive approach towards employee mental health starts at the top. Management can support their employees by creating open and supportive environments where employees can speak to them about their mental health at work and any concerns they may have. Make it clear to your team that you’re here to help. It may be a good idea to put your managers on mental health training courses to make sure they feel comfortable supporting their team and can do it effectively.

Appraisals can also be a beneficial way to take time to speak to employees about any issues they may be facing, as suggested by the HSE. These meetings create time for employees to discuss their mental health and wellbeing with their managers.

Potential signs of stress

There’s never just one sign that shows an employee is struggling with their mental health. However, there are a few signs that could be red flags, such as:

  • Being withdrawn
  • Eating significantly more or less
  • Worsening performance
  • Irritability
  • Drug or alcohol misuse
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty focusing on work
  • Changing how they interact with colleagues
  • Increase in sickness absence

If you notice an employee appears withdrawn in situations or is anxious and struggling to focus on their work (or is struggling from any of the above indications), it could be worth inviting them for a meeting to discuss how they’re feeling.


How we can help you support your employees’ mental health

We’re here to help

Mental health is a huge topic, and it’s not an easy fix in many cases. If you would like help understanding your responsibilities as an employer, what you can do to improve employee wellbeing, and how to influence company culture to make your workplace a safe space for those who are struggling, contact us today.

Our 24/7 advice line means you can call and talk to one of our HR or Health & Safety experts one on one, whenever you need to. We’re also here to help you create relevant policies, risk assessments, and other key documentation to better support your employees with their mental health and meet your legal obligations. And, to make sure you cover all the bases, we can also help you train your managers to support their teams, with our handy online elearning courses in Atlas.

So, call 0345 844 1111 to benefit from 24/7 access to expert advice, free resources and guidance, dedicated Employee Assistance Programmes, and much more.

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