We know that people perform better at work when they feel valued and well supported by their employer. In recent years we’ve started to see employers waking up to this, and taking steps to support the mental health of their staff.
Last week we saw the issue of mental health at work hit the headlines, as a new report revealed that 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem were leaving their jobs every year. It shines a bright light on just how significant the human cost of not addressing these issues is, while the financial impact is staggering. Poor mental health now costs the UK economy up to £99bn, with up to £42bn as a direct cost to employers.

"A mental health at work plan needs to set out how your organisation approaches the issue of supporting the mental health of your staff."

Figures as stark as this might feel daunting, but the report also introduced new recommended standards that will set employers on their way to creating a mentally healthy workplace of their own, which are:

• Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
• Develop mental health awareness among employees
• Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
• Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development
• Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors
• Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.

'People management' and mental health

We know that a lot of employers are open to improving the mental health and wellbeing of their workplace but even with these new standards, aren’t quite sure where to start or what this might look like. What is a mental health at work plan? What constitutes a healthy work life balance? What does effective people management look like?
There’s rarely a straightforward answer to this, and we know that the answer may be different from one employer to the next, but there are lots of practical examples that you can learn from and apply in your own context.

A mental health at work plan needs to set out how your organisation approaches the issue of supporting the mental health of your staff. It’s about creating policies and procedures that promote wellbeing among your staff as well as tackling the work-related causes of poor mental health. It also needs to cover how you will support staff who are experiencing poor mental health at work so they know what is available. This will communicate to staff that their mental health is valued.

At Mind, this includes things like having flexible working hours and practicing regular one-to-ones between staff and line managers, to ensure staff are clear about roles and responsibilities and have a space to discuss issues that might be affecting them. We also encourage staff to develop a Wellness Action Plan with their line manager - a simple method of facilitating conversations about mental health which are constructive and lead to agreed practical support.

Wellness Action Plans

Wellness Action Plans can help to facilitate openness between managers and staff, but when it comes to the wider organisation it’s also important to create an environment where people feel comfortable should they wish to disclose their mental health problem. Time to Change – the campaign we deliver in partnership with Rethink Mental Illness – have developed the Time to Change pledge, which employers can sign to demonstrate their commitment to improving workplace mental health. The campaign does great work with employers and can work with you to develop an action plan to get your employees talking about mental health. This could include small actions such as running events for World Mental Health Day, to larger ones such as training line managers so they feel comfortable having conversations about mental health with their team members.

But even if you’re not signing the Time to Change pledge, supporting line managers to support their staff is a key part of these new recommendations. The relationship managers have with their staff are key factors in shaping how employees respond when they’re experiencing stress and poor mental health. It’s vital that managers start this process off in a positive and supportive way.

And whether it’s training for line managers or other aspects of workplace wellbeing, we’re here to support employers at whatever stage you’re at. At Mind we have training and consultancy packages ranging from mental health awareness to emotional intelligence and resilience. We also run our Workplace Wellbeing Index every year - a benchmark of best policy and practice when it comes to workplace mental health.

It will help you find out where you are doing well and provide bespoke recommendations on where you could improve your approach. With more employers realising the importance of workplace mental health, we need to start embedding best practice into organisations of all shapes and sizes, and we’ll continue to use our experience to help employers achieve this.

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