In light of the unprecedented spotlight that is on mental health and mental health awareness currently – in many ways due to the Covid-19 pandemic – environments such as the workplace and schools are challenging themselves to integrate policy, practice and values that reflect this growing concern.

“Even before the pandemic, the state of the nation’s mental health has been a topic of conversation at home, in the workplace and in the media.”

Recent guidance from NICE and Public Health England (PHE) suggests that equipping managers with the skills necessary to have conversations around mental health will reduce stigma in the workplace and allow employees to address concerns about their mental health in a productive way.

The guidance, called ‘Mental Wellbeing at Work’ outlines some key factors to create the ‘right conditions’ in the workplace, these include:

  • 'an environment and culture of participation'
  • 'equality'
  • 'safety'
  • 'fairness'
  • 'open communication'

This guidance was put together by the independent guideline committee which is made up of mental health experts, professionals from within the NHS, employers and local authority members. The committee concluded on six main points for employers to focus on when offering mental health training for their managers, these were:

  • 'how to have a conversation about mental wellbeing with an employee'
  • 'information about mental wellbeing'
  • 'how to identify early warning signs of poor mental wellbeing'
  • 'resources on mental wellbeing'
  • 'awareness of the stigma associated with poor mental wellbeing'
  • 'ongoing monitoring of mental wellbeing in the workplace'

NICE and PHE hope that this guidance will facilitate a better understanding of mental health awareness in the workplace and how this can inform and improve employee’s understanding and engagement in ‘organisational decisions’ as well as communication between management and their teams.

Dr Paul Chrisp, NICE’s director of the centre for guidelines has said:

“Our new guideline has considered issues which were a problem before COVID-19 emerged and new issues which have presented themselves as a result of the pandemic. Reducing stigma and equipping managers with skills to have conversations with employees about mental health is likely to facilitate conversations between managers and employees about any concerns about their mental wellbeing. This makes it more likely that managers can support employees with mental health issues.”

Speaking on the need for more in-depth research on the topic of mental health in the workplace Dr Chrisp said: “Further research is needed in this area, but providing managers with skills to discuss mental wellbeing improves the relationship between manager and employee so that they can identify and reduce work stressors. This is a practicable step employers can implement and adopt quickly without a huge amount of investment.”

The committee also noted that this kind of mental health training should be considered as good practice in all industries, no matter the size of the organisation, company or business.

Why mental health needs to be be a priority in the workplace

A report from 2020 by Deloitte found that poor mental health in the UK can cost employers between £42bn - £45bn every year. This cost is made up of a number of factors ranging from absences, coming to work despite poor health and therefore underperforming and turnover costs.

As we exit from the more extreme measures of the past eighteen months during the pandemic, and adjust to a new way of life, the prevalence of mental health and poor wellbeing at work cannot be ignored. Not only is standardised mental health training in the workplace an economical solution but it will be an essential aspect of the recovery of our country and workforce moving forwards.