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Make mental health your organisation’s New Year resolution

Vicki Cockman, Workplace Lead - Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England.

As the new year arrives, many of us will reflect on our achievements and learnings from the past 12 months. It is a good time to consider the successes and challenges your organisation has faced over the past year and how you can take action to better harness or address them moving forwards.

One key element to review is your organisation’s approach to mental health. Good employee mental health is essential to building a successful and sustainable organisation and can have a range of benefits – improving engagement, recruitment and retention, and even boosting your bottom line.

Why should mental health be on the agenda for 2020?
Although mental health awareness has improved over the last decade, research shows that 62% of managers put the interests of their organisation above staff wellbeing. Poor management of mental health in the workplace impacts both productivity and wellbeing and is one of the top drivers of the 72 million working days lost each year in the UK. In 2017, it was found that 300,000 people fall out of work each year due to mental illness.

As well as the human cost, there are also serious financial repercussions. The Centre for Mental Health estimates that mental ill health costs the UK economy £34.9 billion each year. It has long been clear that making mental health a priority, is the right thing to do, both for people and for business.

Creating mentally healthy workplaces across the country can be transformative too. Healthier working cultures can be the ripple that help build a mentally healthier society. Striving to create workplaces where people can thrive should therefore be a top priority for the year ahead and every year.

How can you implement an effective wellbeing strategy?
Creating wellbeing strategy which centres on the whole person is fundamental to creating a workplace where mental health really matters. Mental health should be considered as one element alongside others such as physical, financial and emotional wellbeing, which are all connected in a whole person approach.

Taking a ‘whole organisation’ approach is the natural next step here. This concept is the north star that organisations leading the way in workplace wellbeing use as their organising framework.

A whole organisation approach is about building the right culture and ensuring a mental health and wellbeing strategy is properly implemented. Attitudes should filter down from leaders and be backed up with clear policies that are well communicated.

This approach means designing the stress out of processes and systems, putting healthy job design first, attending to reasonable adjustments, training, flexible working needs, fair and equal pay – and so much more.

If you’re only just starting out on this journey, the Thriving at Work report is a useful resource. It sets out six ‘core standards’ for employers to implement to create a mentally healthier workplace.

Though these provide a useful steer, when developing your strategy, it’s also important to remember that there isn’t a one-size-fits all approach. Your approach will need to be reflective of the nature of the business and workforce.

Creating an environment that encourages open conversation around mental health is another important part of a whole organisation approach. There are a number of useful guides that exist, such as the Workplace Wellbeing Toolkit, to support organisations taking their first steps. This toolkit gives guidance on raising awareness, sensitising an organisation to talking about mental health, as well as advice on embedding Mental Health First Aid England skills.

Giving staff these tools to support themselves and each other is key to empowering everyone to talk about mental health and seek help when needed. Simply knowing that a listening ear and a supportive conversation is close by can be so powerful in helping someone come forward to access support they may need to recover and stay well.

Taking action

From addressing productivity and presenteeism to creating a culture of care, introducing or refreshing workplace wellbeing policy in line with a whole organisation approach can have huge benefits. Most adults spend at least a third of their time at work, which is why we should all start there to change how society deals with mental health now and in the future. As we take our first steps into 2020, now is the perfect time for you to reflect on your organisation’s approach to mental health and take action so that every workplace can thrive.

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