In 2021/22, stress, anxiety, and depression accounted for around half of all work-related ill health cases in Great Britain – and approximately 17 million sick days.

There is no doubt that mental health in the workplace is becoming a louder issue. When you get down to the bare bones of it, what do corporate businesses do to protect the mental wellbeing of their staff?

Often, they will get an employee or several employees to complete Mental Health First Aid training, so they become Mental Health First Aiders for the organisation.

Recognised by the Department of Health, the purpose of Mental Health First Aid training is to increase awareness, education, and support for people in the workplace showing signs of mental health challenges. Course attendees are taught, amongst other things:

  • How to spot the signs of mental distress
  • How to step in and support someone who is struggling
  • The factors that affect wellbeing
  • Non-judgemental listening

MPs are trying to make Mental Health First Aid Training mandatory for all employers.

Now, Mental Health First Aid training is a great first step towards treating mental wellbeing in the workplace as seriously as it should be. It helps to raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental health issues and should provide employees with the knowledge that they do have support at work.

But…it’s not enough for a corporate environment.

The reality is, having Mental Health First Aiders is both preventative and proactive. It serves to make people more aware of their own mental health, and how to look after it more effectively.

If your employees are already suffering from mental health issues, a Mental Health First Aider has the knowledge to identify and the skills to approach the subject but does not have the experience nor qualifications to diagnose, counsel or provide ongoing talking therapy support.

It’s important to remember, a Mental Health First Aider will have volunteered to complete the qualification, and still have their job to do. Their sole focus is not to provide mental health support to their colleagues, but to be a first port of call, just as a general first aider will do.

Improving mental health and wellbeing is much more than having an ear to the ground: it needs to involve real organisational culture awareness and change. If your company culture is even partly responsible for poor mental health amongst your colleagues, then the change needed is much larger than a qualification. Of course, poor mental health can be caused by external reasons, but the person cannot leave this at the door of the workplace, and therefore becomes a workplace issue and duty of care.

Having Mental Health First Aiders within the workplace isn’t enough. Your organisation needs to look at wellbeing on a larger scale and backed up by a mental health strategy, resources, and action-based initiatives that management is committed to implementing.

So what can managers in corporate environments do to provide robust mental health support to employees?

Here are some suggestions that will help both you and your employees:

Address and remove any stigma

Have open conversations about mental health, address any perceived stigmas, stamp out unwanted, unhelpful, or unhealthy attitudes. We all have mental health, whether this be good, bad, or indifferent, so make it part of the normal conversation. Just as if someone injured themselves and received support and adjustments, someone who is struggling with poor mental health requires and should have the same support in place.

Educate yourself

Gain a deeper understanding of the training, resources, and support available to management and employees alike. There are so many incredible organisations that provide a heap of resources to help you create your own mental health initiatives. Here are a few to get you started:

Lead by example

Having a Mental Health First Aider will not be effective if your employees still feel like their mental health issues need to be hidden and are scared of repercussions. These conversations can be uncomfortable, but if you want people to have them, you need to lead by example to reduce the stigma and be honest about your own struggles first. Ask your employees how they are doing and share how you are in return.

Talk to friends and colleagues

If work-related stress is having a big impact on mental health, talk to fellow employees. Not only will they be able to empathise with what you are experiencing, but sharing your feelings instead of keeping them bottled up helps take a huge weight off your shoulders.

In turn, your colleagues will feel like they can confide in you, and you can learn how to support each other in the future, reducing the stigma further.

Provide access to professional counselling

Having access to counselling can be a game-changer for mental health, regardless if this is caused by workplace or personal life. Remember, poor mental health will impact every aspect of life, it cannot be switched on and off.

Giving employees the opportunity to speak to a trained professional about their struggles not only gives them an objective listening ear but allows them to learn strategies to help manage their mental health in the long term. This is particularly important in times of change when levels of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm will typically be higher than normal.

All counselling services will be confidential too, which will almost certainly make people feel more comfortable talking about their mental health than they would to a known colleague who is trained in Mental Health First Aid. Such counselling services can be delivered as an internal or external resource.

Implement Employee Assistant Programmes (EAPs)

Following the above, an Employee Assistant Programme is a selection of benefits that are offered to employees to help deal with issues that could negatively impact their life, to promote wellbeing both at work and at home.

An EAP will typically involve resources such as free or subsidised gym memberships (which are of real benefit as we all know the positive impact that exercise has on mental wellbeing) and practical support lines to provide advice on financial and legal matters. Counselling services will typically be offered too. All of this can help to reduce absenteeism while improving employee engagement and retention.

Chat to your HR advisor and find out if your company has an EAP program in place.

Coaching services

Providing coaching services for members of your team can play a significant role in the awareness and prevention of mental health issues, improve wellbeing, as well as increasing productivity and engagement.

The ultimate aim of coaching is personal and professional development – and all of this starts with self-awareness. By working with a coach to understand yourself, your strengths, and your challenges at the deepest level, you have a great opportunity to reframe your mindset and change your current reality, which helps you to continue to thrive in even the most challenging of circumstances.

Offering this type of coaching in a professional environment can create permanent positive changes, not only for the employees who experience the coaching, but for your whole workplace culture.

Commit to leading the way

When setting up robust mental health initiatives in your workplace, don’t forget to look at the actions being taken in your wider industry. Even the most traditional of workplace environments are starting to realise the importance of providing mental health support for their employees.

Locally in Aberdeen, for example, five more leading energy companies have backed a charter aimed at improving the mental health of North Sea workers.

The Mental Health in Energy Charter has been put together with the assistance of psychologists and third-sector partners, including Mental Health Aberdeen. Some of the points signatories need to follow include:

  • Embedding a Mental Health & Wellbeing plan into employee inductions and handbooks
  • Regularly analyse key performance benchmarks, including absence rates, mental health-specific training, and current practices
  • Regular one-to-one sessions with direct reports

By committing yourself to a charter like this, you not only have a framework to follow, but you also have the accountability to see through your commitments and make your workplace a better environment for every employee.

Introduce a Mental Health Stop Card

Many industries already use a QHSE Stop Card, whereby an action, operation, or activity is stopped due to safety, or a card is logged as an observation of where safety can be improved.

Having been part of the Mental Health Charter Conference earlier this year, the discussions with the professionals around my table made me see we can use some existing practices but make them tighter and more effective, hence why I believe the Stop Card should be extended to incorporate mental health. Whether this be attitude, communication, behavioural change, work patterns and so on, the Stop Card is a highly regarded process that brings immediate focus to the issue.

So consider expanding your Stop Card, or if you don’t have any at all, introduce a Mental Health Stop Card. Review, address, feedback and implement changes where required.

Monitor and improve your organisation’s culture

The culture of an organisation has a direct impact on employees’ behaviours, attitudes, productivity, engagement, and wellbeing. Senior management may communicate about what the culture is believed to be but it is important that this is measured, reviewed and addressed on a regular basis. Don’t let a pulled thread continue to untangle the bigger picture; it’s important to catch any negative changes or vibes early.

Many companies undertake annual surveys each year to measure changes and perceptions, analyse the data and accept this is the current measurement, whether the data is favourable or not. Do not pick and choose what you believe is right or true, let the data tell the story.

It is also important to provide a safe environment for feedback at any time of the year and lead by example of showing what is desired and expected, and the positive culture that is sought.

A culture can help or hinder any business, take positive steps to safeguard yours.

As highlighted, whilst Mental Health First Aiders are a great first step to supporting teams and making mental health a less taboo subject in the workplace, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. And never forget, they are a first aider – a first point of contact, not ongoing help. Without resources and action-based initiatives to back them up, it’s likely that very little will change. To support the mental wellbeing of your team, you need to commit to a real cultural shift and provide resources employees can use when they need them.

If you want to support the wellness and prosperity of your staff, and also drive positive culture and people change throughout your organisation, please reach out and let’s arrange a meeting to discuss further.