A variety of practical steps can help support good mental health at work – from highlighting company financial benefits that could ease employees’ money worries to making reasonable adjustments to support people experiencing a mental health problem.
Coming off the back of multiple lockdowns into a cost-of-living crisis, many employees across the country are facing big challenges both personally and professionally right now. The country is in the grip of a mental health crisis, and workplaces also have an important role to play in supporting mental health.
Thankfully, workplace wellbeing is increasingly at the top of many employers’ agendas, and rightly so. After all, we all have mental health just as we all have physical health, and it fluctuates from good to poor.
We are beginning to see employers realise the prevalence of poor mental health is an issue too great for them to ignore. Research from April 2022 found that poor mental health can cost UK employers up to £56 billion per year. Workplaces across all sectors are now acknowledging the many benefits of prioritising wellbeing at work, as well as the costs of neglecting it.
At Mind, a key part of our work involves advising employers on how to foster and nurture mentally healthy workplaces. We do so by supporting organisations to tackle the causes of work-related stress and poor mental health at work, promote wellbeing for all employees and help members of staff experiencing a mental health problem.
There are a range of practical solutions which organisations can implement, such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs), flexible working hours, buddy systems, subsidised gym membership and exercise classes, cycle to work schemes, season ticket loans and regular catch-ups with managers.
But improving mental health at work doesn’t always require implementing large scale solutions – Wellness Action Plans are a useful tool to support employee wellbeing and are available free from Mind’s website. Jointly drawn up by managers and staff, they help facilitate conversations about mental health, identify unique triggers for poor mental health and explore what helps people stay well.
Reasonable adjustments for employees experiencing a mental health problem
Employers should also already be complying with their legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for any employee experiencing a disability under the Equality Act 2010 – which can include a mental health problem if it has a substantial, adverse and long-term effect on the person’s normal day-to-day activities.
The first step in making effective reasonable adjustments is for managers to ask the member of staff how they can support them. Adjustments need not be expensive – typically they might include flexible hours or a change to start or finish time; a change of workspace; creation of return-to-work policies such as a phased return; changes to role (temporary or permanent); changes to break times; increased support from managers in prioritising and managing workload; or provision of quiet rooms.
But this should not only be seen as a legal duty. It’s not just that employers have a responsibility to promote workplace wellbeing and help prevent poor mental health; it’s also in their business interests to take workplace wellbeing seriously. Those that do have more engaged, productive and loyal employees, who are less likely to need time off sick.
Protecting employees from stress at work
Employers also have a legal duty to protect their team members from stress at work by undertaking stress risk assessments for their employees and acting on them. Organisations with fewer than five employees don’t need to document anything, although it is useful to do so, but all other businesses are required by law to produce a written stress risk assessment.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has created a simple risk assessment template employers can complete and have produced some helpful example risk assessments to support businesses in understanding the level of detail required. You can find these on HSE’s Working Minds campaign website.
It’s also important to be aware right now that many people – especially those on lower incomes – face impossible choices regarding spending, decisions no amount of careful budgeting can address. Any existing benefits offered to staff – including hardship loans, pay advances, advice services or financial support such as travel loans or cycle to work schemes – need to be well promoted and easy to access.
Having a sense of control of your personal finances is key to addressing anxiety around money. Educational programmes delivered in-house by providers around budgeting, pensions and planning for retirement can be a great source of support.
Flexible working can help reduce financial pressure on employees
Employers should also review their current hybrid working arrangements and consider the financial impact on employees of stipulated hours at home or in the office.
Employees should be given as much flexibility as possible in terms of hours and location so they can find a working pattern that least impacts their costs and best supports their wellbeing. Such decisions will likely factor in the need to spend time with colleagues face-to-face, the costs of travelling to the workplace and the costs of energy consumed while working from home.
If this all feels too challenging to tackle alone as an employer, Mind also offers training to support employers with putting into place workplace wellbeing mechanisms. Alongside the Mental Health at Work Leadership Council, we’ve also curated the Mental Health at Work website, which brings together quality assured tools, resources and examples of best practice to a simple, single location.
We want employers to see promoting good mental health as more than a legal obligation, but part of being a responsible employer and sending a message to staff that they are valued and appreciated. Changing the negative culture around mental health and tackling the causes of stress and poor mental health at work will benefit all staff, whether they have a diagnosed mental health problem or not.
Andrew Berrie is Head of workplace wellbeing at Mind
For more information see: mind.org.uk/workplace
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