In an era where people are finding it increasingly tough to switch off and unwind, such a change in pace for society can have a detrimental effect on wellbeing – and it’s not always a direct response to the pressures of a nine-to-five.

Uncertainty around politics and climate change, advancements in technology which threaten to replace humans in industry, and – of course – social media, can lead to a confusion and dissatisfaction with an individual’s current situation.

When combined with international franchises working to differing schedules, flexible working, home offices and smartphones delivering emails 24/7, employees should be billing more ‘people hours’ than ever before – but the opposite is in fact true, with more time lost every year, as a result of mental illness.

Organisations perform better when they have a healthy workforce – both in body and mind – and as a result, employers are being urged to make workplace wellbeing one of the key focuses of their 2020 HR strategy. Below are five great places to begin.

1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan

The World Health Organisation (WHO) found that depression and anxiety costs the global economy around $1 trillion a year in lost productivity. But, for every $1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity.

The HR department should play a role in fostering a culture which is open and encourages communication. Regular, informal conversations with individuals will encourage the flow of information particularly amongst those with low level anxiety and depression.

Listeners must be mindful of not appearing dismissive or judgemental – if someone is brave enough to admit they may be struggling, they must feel as though such a concern is taken seriously and that a plan for help and resolution will be created.

2. Develop awareness among employees

This should be done in two ways. Firstly, it’s important to educate teams around what mental illness is and how it might manifest itself. UK national charity, Mind, offers a number of helpful resources on their website and can be a great place to start.

Secondly, HR teams should be looking to implement an employee relations-based strategy which supports mental wellbeing for every employee. Sadly, there is still a significant challenge in terms of shaking the stereotypes of women being ‘emotional’ and men being ‘weak’ when sharing internal thoughts and feelings.

By educating colleagues to be open and honest with their peers – and themselves – companies will begin to encourage the necessary conversations.

3. Encourage open conversations with extra support

While internal discussions may be at risk of appearing to simply tick boxes and implement more internal processes and procedures, inviting an external expert into the office to provide a focused seminar can often empower a team.

Open discussions around mindfulness, the importance of having breaks and looking after personal wellbeing can be done in a relatively short session, but make a significant impact. Some employees who feel ‘guilty’ about taking regular breaks, may be given a completely new perspective if educated on the benefits of spending a few minutes away from the task in hand. 

It’s no good simply having a ‘mental health at work’ policy in a company handbook either.  There needs to be firm evidence that its place in the organisation is just as important as a performance review and annual leave.

4. Provide good working conditions

Employers need to lead by example. Happy environments will reinforce the notion that a firm truly cares about their workforce – and a great place to start is with simple tweaks, such as fresh air, good lighting and tidy spaces.

Crucially in today’s connected society, the importance of downtime cannot go unchecked either. Managers must be open to new ways of working, such as flexitime so people can work their careers around their lifestyles and family commitments.

In addition, an open-door policy should be a given within any industry – and the message should be reinforced in interviews, new employee training, and review meetings, that they can speak up whenever they need to.

5. Effective people management

The umbrella of ‘mental illness’ is vast, and covers everything from depression, grief, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia, to name just a few. Each are incredibly complex conditions which can prove challenging for employers to relate to.

While physical ailments, such as broken limbs or cancer, will carry an expected period of ‘treatment time’ – as well as the necessary ongoing support – there should be a similar process in place for those afflictions that don’t present themselves to the naked eye.

By fostering an approach which encourages communication, empathy and discretion, with a focus on working together towards a positive outcome, HR managers will find it easier to routinely monitor the team and ensure strong mental health support is in place which will only serve to enhance employee relations.


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Mental Health

Author: Arwen Makin

After studying law at Cambridge University, Arwen trained at leading national law firm Mills & Reeve, qualifying into their employment team in 2002. Arwen has extensive employment law experience, having advised both employers and employees on a wide range of employment issues. Prior to joining ESP she previously worked for a number of years providing advice and representation to both trade unions and their members, and has a particular expertise in the education sector. Due to her diverse experience she is ideally placed to give advice in relation to professional conduct and regulatory matters.