Mental health – why does it matter to managers in the workplace?

There has been a real buzz around mental health in recent years and gradually it seems that some of the barriers around discussing this subject are falling.  Despite positive moves forward there is still much stigma around the topic with a staggering 90% of employees reporting that they have given a false reason for absence from work when struggling with a mental health issue rather than being open about their condition.  How can an organisation take steps to improve the situation if the real cause of the issue is not being reported?

Mental health is something that everyone has, much the same as physical health.  The term ‘mental health’ often has a negative connotation – and this does nothing to encourage more open conversations.  But why would you want to encourage a more positive attitude towards mental health and more open conversations in your organisation?

In hard statistics, mental health impacts your bottom line.  A happy workforce is a productive workforce – less absence and lower staff turnover equals less cost to your business, and higher productivity with pride in the quality of work leads to higher quality products or services.  A relatively new entry into the dictionary is presenteeism – ‘the practice of being present at one’s place of work for more hours than is required, especially as a manifestation of insecurity about one’s job’.  Of course, there comes a point at which optimum output (and quality of work) reaches a peak and then begins to diminish, so longer hours and less security in their work may well result in lower quality output and a downward spiral of worry and concern on the part of the employee.

HSE report that 15.4 million days were lost due to mental ill health in 2017/18, accounting for 57% of all working days lost that year. Some of these days are being lost in your company, and where employees who are suffering from a mental health condition are at work, their productivity and quality is likely to be lower than it could be.

I’m not breaking any new philosophical ground when I assert that an organisation’s employees are its greatest asset.  An eye-watering 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health issue this year, and 1 in 6 employees will experience mental health issues in their workplace such as stress, anxiety or depression.  Organisations who prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of their employees will benefit from staff who are engaged and invested in your business and who will work harder for you.

Salary Is Not Enough

Times have changed.  No longer is it enough to provide a wage or salary for your staff and expect to be thanked for it, especially in these times of low level unemployment.  Your reputation in the local community as a good employer who cares about their staff will result in you having the pick of the talent from prospective employees who are keen to work with you.  Suppliers, customers and other stakeholders will have an increasingly positive view of your organisation and reputation will benefit.

HSE make it clear that mental health is part of an organisation’s responsibility, regardless of whether the mental health issue has been caused by work or not.  56% of managers surveyed by MIND said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance.  So, what can you do to improve the culture of positive mental health and wellbeing in your workplace?

Ideas To Improve Workplace Wellbeing

The key is to choose actions which will have the biggest impact within the budget available and fit the organisation’s structure, size and core aims.  Possible ideas could include:

·         Running short classes or sessions during work time or at lunchtime – relaxation, Zumba, mindfulness or yoga.  Why not ask your staff what they would value most?  Maybe someone on your staff has skills they would be willing to use!

·         Regular supervision or 1:1 meetings between employees and line managers to establish good working relationships, allow opportunities to air concerns on either side, look at workload where appropriate and create individual plans for support or change where necessary

·         Organise a wellbeing conference for staff, stakeholders (maybe customers, suppliers, community) to empower people around their own mental health as well as those around them.  This could be done by a group of businesses if your organisation is small.

·         Mental Health First Aiders / points of contact – these are usually employees who are willing to be the first point of contact for peers who are experiencing mental health issues and wish to discuss them.  They are trained to listen non-judgmentally, recognise the main symptoms and signpost to external support. They are not counsellors but may signpost to these services or others as appropriate (2 day training course required).

·         Mental Health Champions – awareness training for senior managers to ensure buy-in; longer courses for HR managers and line managers to enable them to deal with mental health issues more confidently.  Training courses vary from 4 hours to 2 days in length.

·         Place posters and leaflets around the building which show a positive stance on mental health – free downloadable posters and leaflets are available from MIND and other mental health charities.  Put them in staff meeting areas and on the doors in staff toilets etc.

·         Encourage an open dialogue between managers and employees.  Open door policies, statements in staff handbook, discussion during induction or ongoing training sessions etc. will help to show employees that the company is committed to supporting its employees.

·         Encourage good work-life balance – maybe use initiatives such as early closing on the last Friday of the month; managers lead by example by leaving work on time; ensuring staff take meal breaks; prohibit working lunches or taking lunch at their desk; employing flexible working practices where possible; organising social events.

·         Open appreciation for the work your staff do. Thank them!  Reward them! It may be formal e.g. employee of the month or humorous e.g. smiler of the week – or anything else you can think of!

·         If staff are signed off work due to mental ill health, retain contact with them, preferably on an agreed frequency basis.  They may feel vulnerable, insecure, lonely and anxious and support from their manager will help to alleviate these issues.  Don’t feel you must break off all contact, but equally don’t put pressure on them about work issues, return to work etc. whilst they are absent.

·         Where necessary consider workplace adjustments, phased return to work plans.

Future Employees

1 in 8 young people aged 5-19 have at least one mental health disorder and 75% of adults with a mental health disorder experienced their first symptoms by the age of 24.  These are your future employees, and they’ll be looking for businesses where staff wellbeing and a positive attitude towards mental health are priorities.

To support businesses to make these changes, Winterbury Training offers two different suites of three courses directly supporting mental health in the workplace.  These include:

·         4 hour courses for any and all staff to participate in which focus on how individuals can maintain their own positive mental wellbeing;

·         1 day courses for managers in the workplace who may be required to recognise mental health issues and communicate appropriately with team members; and

·         2 day courses for HR managers and managers/other staff who are designated to recognise, support and signpost those with mental health issues.

If you would like to find out more about the courses available please contact Winterbury Training on 07584 732119 or email