Wellbeing, happiness, and productivity go hand in hand, so it’s vital that leaders of businesses large and small make supporting their team’s mental health a priority. Explore our guide for inspiration on creating a supportive working environment where mental health is never taboo.
Supporting employees’ mental health at work has never been more important. Almost 18 million working days were lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in Britain in 2019/20, while poor mental health costs employers up to £45bn each year. And with the effects of the pandemic on mental health, employees may need more support from their employers.
As well as the severe impact on the individuals concerned, employers can face increased staff turnover, a rise in sickness absence and a reduction in company productivity.
Many mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, can be triggered by an uncaring or stressful working situation. Other conditions, like postnatal depression, PTSD, and eating disorders, can be exacerbated by problems at work. A healthy workplace is in the best interests of everyone – no good business owner would want their employee suffering as a result of poor working practices.
Of course, there’s no way to fully prevent illness and mental health conditions among employees. Instead, it’s employers’ responsibility to ensure they are creating a supportive workplace that cares about team members’ health, and provides them with the tools needed to limit the impact of work on their wellbeing.
1. Create an open and connected culture
Open communication is crucial to a healthy workplace.
No one should be forced to talk about their personal issues at work, but employees should feel able to raise mental health concerns, and understand the routes to do so..
Founders and managers being open about their own mental health experiences can help create a positive and open culture. Effective communication processes should be set up with regular opportunities for staff to touch base with their manager and discuss their wellbeing. This will help you assess the employee’s workload and whether this could be negatively affecting their health.
Socialising is important too. Encouraging employees to get to know each other as people, rather than just as colleagues can boost team morale and productivity. Make time in the working week for staff to bond. This will not only help encourage trust among the team, but staff with mental health issues may also be more able to bring their whole selves to work if they feel like an accepted and valued member of the team.
2. Think about your working environment
The environment employees are based in can have an impact on their mental health at work.
Natural light, good ventilation, outdoor spaces and access to healthy food and drink have all been shown to be beneficial to employee satisfaction and productivity. If you have employees working from home, ensure that they have sufficient equipment such as a laptop, desk and comfortable chair. You could even send them a few plants!
You should take steps to create a healthy environment in your office or look for a workspace that provides these benefits.
Floor-to-ceiling windows safeguard natural human circadian cycles (the internal clock that supports sleeping/waking patterns). The building contains lots of fresh greenery, which studies show improves happiness and productivity. We also continually monitor for VOCs, humidity, CO2 and dust for the best air quality.
3. Facilitate flexibility
If an employee is struggling with their mental health, having to come work at set times could make the situation worse.
Many employers recognise that as long as the job is done, staff don’t necessarily need to work a traditional 9-5 anymore. You could allow them to start and finish at different times, fit the required work into fewer days, or job share with a colleague.
This approach gives staff greater control over the hours they work and the ability to deal with situations such as medical appointments, taking children to school, and avoiding busy commuting times. All this can contribute to a better work/life balance and improved mental health.
Working hours are not the only way you can support mental health. Allowing employees to work away from the office on a part-time or full-time basis can also help. A change of environment such as working from home or in a shared workspace can reduce stress, improve wellbeing and boost productivity.
However, it can be harder to recognise the signs of mental illness in staff working remotely. To ensure your team stays connected, collaboration apps like Slack and Teams allow you to regularly check in. Regular face-to-face chats (either in real life or in a video call) can also help ensure you are aware of how your team are feeling, and encourage them to open up.
4. Encourage time out
No one should be spending too many hours sitting at their desk without a break so encourage your employees to take some time out regularly throughout the day.
Many companies have a policy of banning meetings at particular times to ensure staff take a lunch break or have uninterrupted time to focus on their work.
It’s also important that staff feel able to take their full holiday allowance. Lead by example by taking regular time off to recuperate, and ensure employees are regularly reminded to book their leave.
A short stroll in the open air can be beneficial to mental health. Consider if any meetings could be held outside too and join the growing trend of walking meetings. Such exercise is not just good for employee mental health; it’s good for business too. Studies have shown that walking boosts creativity and productivity.
For office-based employees, create spaces they can use away from their desks. That could be for a meeting or to take a quick break. At Plus X Brighton, the AIRSPACE roof terrace is available for members to enjoy a moment of calm.
5. Arrange wellbeing activities
Encouraging your staff to take physical exercise or improving their mindfulness can reduce stress and anxiety, boost confidence levels and improve sleep.
Consider offering yoga, pilates or fitness classes at your workplace or live streamed online for remote employees. Plus X innovation hubs provide yoga classes and breathing workshops to members as a mental wellbeing benefit.
You could also offer staff a set amount of money to spend on a wellbeing activity of their choice, or encourage them to use mindfulness and meditation techniques which can generate feelings of calm, reduce stress and help to deal with difficult or unhelpful thoughts.
Promote mindfulness activities by sharing advice from organisations like Mind or by funding subscriptions to apps such as Calm and Headspace. Plus X members have discounted access to digital wellbeing services from Wellspace.
6. Consider mental health first aid training
Traditional first aiders who deal with accidents and illnesses have long been a feature of the British workplace, but the mental health equivalent is becoming increasingly popular for modern businesses.
Mental health first aiders are volunteers from your workforce who are trained to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health. They know how to have a non-judgmental conversation, help people in a crisis and guide them towards professional support.
Having mental aid first aiders on hand means staff have a point of contact if they need help or advice. All staff at Plus X Innovation hubs are trained in the MHFA (Mental Health First Aid) qualification to support members.