Thriving at Work: 6 Things Every Organisation Can Do To Support Mental Health

Ross Brooks
Thriving at Work: 6 Things Every Organisation Can Do To Support Mental Health

Thriving at Work is an independent review of how employers can better support the mental health of their employees, including those with existing mental health problems. It was produced for the UK government in 2017, and outlines 6 “core standards” that businesses of all shapes and sizes can implement.

The authors of the report view mental health as something that can change throughout a lifetime. Most of us will fluctuate between three phases: Thriving, struggling and illness. They also believe that it’s possible for someone to have a serious mental health problem and still thrive at work – with the right level of support.

In order for that to happen, people also need good work, which consists of autonomy, fair pay, work-life balance, opportunities for progression, and the absence of bullying and harassment. When these conditions are met, it can help prevent new mental health problems and support those with existing conditions to thrive at work.

The costs of ignoring mental health at work

According to research from Deloitte, the cost per employee of poor mental health is between £1,205 and £1,560 per year. This cost is for all employees, not just those who are ill. Across the UK, this costs employers anywhere between 33 and 42 billion per year.

The report highlights five ways that poor mental health can impact productivity:

Sickness absence: Mental health is one of the greatest causes of sickness absence in the UK, and people with a mental health condition are three times more likely to have a long-term period of sickness.

Presenteeism: Presenteeism is defined as showing up to work when one is ill, which results in a loss of productivity and sometimes makes an individual’s condition worse.

“Presenteeism is particularly common in organisations where a culture of long working hours is the norm and where operational demands take precedence over employee wellbeing. Also, in periods of job insecurity, people may be more likely to go into work when they are ill, rather than take a day of sick, for fear their commitment to their job will be doubted. It is this culture and these fears that need to be addressed in order to reduce presenteeism at work.”

Rachel Suf, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

Limited progression: Employees tend to perceive that having a mental health condition could hamper their progression: 35% of people think they would be less likely to get promoted if they had depression, resulting in a loss of diversity and skills throughout organisations.

Knock-on effects: People who try to hide their mental health issues due to a lack of support can impact people throughout the organisation. If they have to take time off to cope without any support from their manager, it can increase the workload of other people in the team.

Employee turnover: 15% of those in work in England have symptoms of a mental health problem. A lack of support can result in the impact of someone’s work on their mental health forcing them to resign. This will result in additional recruitment and training costs.

Before we move on to the specific actions organisations can take to support the mental health of employees, it’s equally – if not more – important to highlight the human costs. Poor mental health can result in lack of sleep, panic attacks, difficulty concentrating and low confidence. This can lead to people distancing themselves from support networks at a time when they need them most.

The ultimate human cost is when someone decides to take their own life, which is higher for employees in certain industries. For example, suicide rates among men working in construction and decorating are 35% more likely to take their own lives, while female nurses are 24% more likely to commit suicide than the national average for women.

Six mental health core standards every business can adopt

The mental health standards recommended by the Thriving at Work report are based on the review of a wide range of academic literature, guides and toolkits from organisations such
as What Works Centre for Wellbeing, Mind, CIPD, NICE and Business in the Community.

1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health plan

The best mental health plans are created with the involvement of your employees, which makes it possible to support the different needs of people across the company. In order for a plan to be effective, it also needs buy-in and public support from senior leaders.

Line managers play an important role in supporting mental health initiatives. They can help by spreading awareness and sharing their own experiences. For mental health policies to really take hold, they also need to be included in wider organisational policies.

What to include

  • How you will promote the wellbeing of all staff
  • How you will tackle the work-related causes of mental health problems including routinely taking stock of the wellbeing of your staff
  • How you will support staff experiencing poor mental health
  • Signposting to relevant sources of information and support both inside and outside your organisation
  • Offering clear objectives which are shaped around your organisational vision

2. Develop mental health awareness among employees

Provide staff with reliable information about mental health, encourage senior leaders to share their experiences and recruit Mental Health Champions from within the business

3. Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling

You need to make it clear to employees that support is available throughout the employee experience. Whether they’ve just joined, or have been with the company for years, it’s important that people know what kind of support is available. E.g. How do you support employees when they are feeling unwell and support them returning to work.

There are various ways to support employees, including:

  • Flexible working or changes to start and finish times
  • Change of workspace – quieter, less busy, dividing screens
  • Changes to role (temporary or permanent)
  • Time off for appointments, at short notice if needed
  • Working from home.

4. Provide employees with good working conditions

  • Workloads that match employees’ abilities and experience
  • Reasonable and agreed deadlines for completing work
  • A suitable working environment (consider noise, office lighting, equipment)
  • Freedom for employees to express any concerns
  • Plans for employee training and development

5. Promote effective people management and provide training on mental health and stress management – including how to spot the signs and have supportive conversations

  • Hold regular catch-ups with staff
  • Set clear priorities
  • Celebrate individual and team successes
  • Involve staff in decision making
  • Adapt management style to suit individual needs

6. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing

  • Staff surveys can be a great way to capture information about mental health and help you understand what affects wellbeing at work
  • Team mental health audits allow staff to share their challenges and work together with managers to identify solutions
  • HR data can be an important source of information on wellbeing. Sources you can use could include absenteeism data, staff turnover and exit interviews

Taking a proactive approach to mental health

Mental health has an impact the personal and professional lives of people around the world. Organisations are in a powerful position to provide the support that employees need to thrive in all aspects of their lives. Beyond the core standards, Thriving at Work also recommends a set of enhanced standards that companies can adopt to set an example to others.

For more information on how to support the mental health of your employees, take a look at this guide from Mind.org.uk, which explains in more detail how to implement both the “core” and “enhanced” mental health standards recommended in Thriving at Work.

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