How best to support employees’ mental health in the workplace

Businesses continue to struggle with addressing employees’ poor mental health in the workplace. specially when external factors stack up like the cost-of-living crisis and the pandemic, the impact of which can easily spill over into professional life,

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

It is clear companies that don’t provide mental health support will face difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff — not to mention the impact stress and poor mental health have on performance, productivity, and attendance.

Mental health support in the workplace is not just a ‘nice-to-have’ — you’re legally required under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to ensure your employees’ health, safety and overall wellbeing.

Read on to discover the causes of poor mental health, its significance, and our top tips for supporting mental health in the workplace.


What causes poor mental health at work?

There is a wide range of reasons that an employee may be suffering from poor mental health at work. Some employees may be struggling to manage a pre-existing mental health condition and feel unsupported in doing so by their employer. Some may be struggling with the expectations and demands of their job itself.

According to the Labour Force Survey, the predominant cause of work-related stress, depression or anxiety is workload, in particular tight deadlines, too much work or too much pressure or responsibility. People also mentioned a lack of managerial support, organisational changes at work, violence and role uncertainty (a lack of clarity about their job or uncertainty about what they are meant to do).

The CIPD and Mind identify factors such as lone working, negative relationships, poor communication, and people working long hours and not taking breaks as key triggers for poor mental health at work. With more workers now working flexibly or completely remotely, all of these could become more common.


Early signs of stress in the workplace

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

  • Being withdrawn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

If you notice an employee appears withdrawn, anxious, or having trouble focusing on their work, it’s worth inviting them for a meeting to discuss how they’re feeling.

Take a look at our blog post on how to identify stress in the workplace for more advice.


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 business doesn’t provide adequate support for employees’ mental health in the workplace, they may seek opportunities elsewhere, even if they haven’t personally experienced a mental health condition. This can greatly affect their perception of workplace culture and their own work-life balance.

Improved performance

By supporting your employees’ mental health, you could see performance improve. It could help reduce work-related stress, boost motivation, and help themput 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 at work. 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.


Supporting mental health in the workplace best practices

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 and 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 in the workplace. 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

Businesses can also support employees’ mental health in the workplace by implementing 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’ mental health?

A better workplace environment and a positive, proactive approach towards employee mental health starts from the top. Management can support their employees by:

  1. Introducing regular 1:1s, appraisals and wellbeing catch-ups to help identify any signs of worsening mental health and help find solutions to any existing issues.
  2. Making resources accessible to remind employees how they can access support; whether you have an employee assistance programme, occupational health guidance or Mental Health First Aiders, it should all be easily reachable. Click here to find out more about our employee assistance programmes.
  3. Implementing policy‑driven culture change by allowing more permanent or temporary flexible working arrangements – such as hybrid working – and making it easy for people to ask for help.
  4. Training line managers in mental health equips them to effectively support their teams, manage workloads, and set realistic expectations, taking into account individual working styles.
  5. Identifying any issues that may be linked to mental health, especially during any disciplinary processes taking place. Please be sure to take advice if that is the case.


Support your employees’ mental health with help from Citation

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 manage employee wellbeing, and how 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 e-learning courses in Atlas.

Get more information

Pop in your details and we'll call you straight back

We'll get back to you as soon as we can.