Good mental health at work makes employees more productive and therefore has a significant impact on how a business performs. Poor mental health at work imposes a direct cost on employers of £33bn-£42bn a year, according to the Government-commissioned Stevenson-Farmer Review. Any company choosing to make mental health at work a priority within their organisation, and looking to implement initiatives to promote good mental health, should first be able to measure what is intended to be managed.
Several established and respected organisations concerned with mental health provide tools which allow companies to measure mental health in the workplace. Using these tools helps a company to create the most appropriate programme.
One recommended resource is published by mental health charity Mind:
Mind recommends the following actions:
Carry out a policy review
What policies and practices are already in place that have a direct bearing on mental health? A key component of these should be a policy on protecting employees from stress. A policy against stress is not a policy against hard work – most people thrive in temporary periods of pressure when a well-managed team is working together towards a well-understood objective. Stress and anxiety are often produced by the reverse circumstances – constantly working under poor direction with a misallocation of supporting resources.
Ensure that mental health is acknowledged by existing policies such as employee performance, health and safety, working hours, sickness absence, and return to work.
Measure employee experiences
Use a scheduled staff satisfaction survey to measure employee sentiment. If a business already operates a staff survey, redesign the survey to include questions on how employees feel at work as well as what they think about workplace conditions and performance.
Use human resources data
High rates of staff turnover and absence are obvious indicators that all may not be well. Exit interviews may help a business understand what is going on. But – and this is important – it is known that around 90 per cent of employees never admit that an absence was due to stress or another mental health issue. An organisation which suffers high absence rates attributed to other factors probably has an issue with mental health in the workplace.
Develop an action plan
Data generated by the above actions provides the foundation for an action plan. The plan establishes a structured approach to mental health at work, as such it will involve senior management and the available HR function to set in place the required policies and programmes. An effective action plan will also feature input from employees where relevant.
Build in temperature checks
Encourage line managers to conduct regular one-to-one’s with employees. Scheduled appraisals should include an assessment of mental wellbeing. Watch for any patterns or trends in the feedback provided by employees.
Some advice for managers
Mind offers some practical advice for line managers on effective engagement with employees over mental health issue:
- Adapt your management style to best meet the needs of each individual employee.
- Ask employees regularly how they are doing, walk the floor more.
- Build trust by asking employees to comment on how well you are doing in supporting them.
- Ensure that workloads and deadlines are reasonable. Is work being assigned to make best use of individual abilities?
Using external expertise
Larger businesses should consider using an external expert in mental health issues to analyse in detail employee sentiment. Such a partner will also benchmark an organisation’s current and intended provision for mental health against acknowledged best practice. Again, Mind provides a standout example with its Workplace Wellbeing Index.
Some final encouragement
Mental health has been an issue in the British workplace since the first employee took up their tools. It’s an area of work which has long been crying out for proper recognition from business leaders. Getting started may conjure up images of – initially – awkward meetings and long silences as you get the mental health conversation going in your business. Be persistent. Remain open and honest about what you are aiming to achieve. People will respond – and your business will be better for it.
The IoD's resources on mental health and the workplace are collected in a dedicated hub:
Mental Health & Wellbeing in the Workplace.
Mind – Mental Health Gateway
Mind’s hub dedicated to mental health at work includes a dedicated section “How to assess my organisation’s approach”.
CIPD/Mind – People Manager’s Guide To Mental Health
This clearly written guide to mental health in the workplace provides a wealth of advice on getting started. Chapter Seven clearly explains how deteriorating mental wellbeing presents in the workplace. Employers tempted to screen job applicants for mental health issues must read Chapter Five.
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