Six things you should be doing to improve mental health in the workplace

MH1The business case for addressing mental wellbeing in the workplace is now well-established.  It is well-understood that mental health problems are relatively common and are a significant cause of extended sickness absence.  But what should you be doing to improve things?  Here are six things that should be near the top of your To Do list to improve mental health in your organisation.

1. Talking about Mental Health

It’s a culture change thing. To improve mental health at work the issue has to become less of a taboo subject – people have to get used to talking about it.  So, anything you do to raise awareness of the issue and make talking about it the norm, is going to help.  Ways of doing this include:

  • Regularly covering mental health issues in staff newsletters.
  • Using World Mental Health Day (10th October each year) to make a splash about the issue. 
  • Circulating some of the excellent  videos from See Me Scotland, such as  The Power of OK  (contains explicit language).
  • Talking about mental health at staff meetings/briefings.

2. Training Line Managers

There are at least three reasons why Line Managers have a  key role to play in improving mental health at work:

  1. Their behaviours and the way they manage have a direct impact on the mental health of their staff.
  2. They are likely to be first to identify if an employee is having problems, e.g. starting to show the symptoms of stress.
  3. They will be on the front line of helping/supporting employees that do have a problem.

Without some basic training Line Managers are likely to struggle to engage with the issue.  Training needs to cover:

  • Common mental health conditions
  • What impacts mental health
  • Warning signs to look out for.
  • How to talk to staff about their mental health.
  • Management competencies for good mental health

The HSE have a useful Competency (self-assessment) Indicator Tool for Line Managers.

3.  Reviewing work loads

Workloads have significant impact on stress levels.  So make sure there is an effective framework in place for regularly reviewing staff workloads at appropriate intervals.  This may take the form of weekly or monthly one-to-one meetings.

4. Encouraging exercise

Exercise not only improves physical health but has a significant positive impact on mental wellbeing. Ways of promoting exercise include:

  • Encouraging staff to cycle or walk to work by installing secure bike racks, making information on cycle routes available and providing showers if possible.
  • Allowing flexible hours to accommodate exercise at lunchtime.
  • Allowing /encouraging desk bound staff to take breaks and walk around.
  • Partnering with local gyms or sports centres.
  • Holding interdepartmental competitions (rounders, volleyball…) and set up company sports teams.
  • Entering teams for charity runs.

5. Talking about mental health in the staff reviews

Performance reviews/appraisals provide an opportunity for managers to discuss issues that impact on mental health with their staff:  If it is appropriate, the reviews should include discussion issues such as:

  • work load
  • working hours and work life balance
  • relationships with colleagues
  • stress levels

6. Changing how you change

Change and the way it is managed has been shown to have significant impact on the mental wellbeing of staff.   Frequent and poorly managed change can significantly increase stress and anxiety levels.  However, the reality is that, across both the public and private sector, the frequency and pace of change is steadily increasing.  Consequently, being able to manage change well is becoming a core capability for almost all organisations.  When planning and undertaking change, the impact on the mental health of staff should be an issue for consideration.  The adverse impact on staff’s mental health can be reduced by involving staff in the decision making progress from the earliest opportunity, maintaining good communications throughout the process and thinking carefully about the impact on workloads.