Addressing the Taboo of Mental Health in Business


It’s great to see so much talk about mental health. The amount of conversations and visibility have clearly grown over the last few years. Employee mental health was once a taboo subject. However, a spotlight has been shining and highlighting the detrimental effects mental ill-health can have on a person and the organisations they work in.

For most of us, our job is a huge part of our lives. It’s where we spend much of our time, and where we meet some of our closest friends. However, when someone’s mental health is suffering, the impacts can be numerous but the reasons may very well lay hidden.

The state of our mental health can have a huge impact on our work life, and vice versa.

As an employer, it is your responsibility to support your employees’ mental and physical health. When we address mental health in the workplace and increase psychological wellbeing, we improve resilience, self-esteem, self-efficacy, productivity, chronic and acute absence, and perhaps most importantly, communication.

There are so many great ideas out there to help with communication, resilience, activity and the work environment. Let’s look at these in a little more detail:

Create an environment of open communication

Employees can be scared to tell their boss or others in their organisation about any mental health issues. This can cause problems to spiral having an even more significant impact on them, their colleagues and the business.

According to the Mind charity, “less than 50% of people diagnosed with a mental health problem had told their manager”. The lack of openness is especially true in safety-critical roles such as healthcare, aviation, transportation and the forces where one word can be seen as limiting career opportunities and in extreme cases closing careers completely.

To combat this, the key is to create a supportive work culture where employees feel they can open up about their problems. In an Ipsos MORI survey polling 3,894 people internationally, half (50%) of respondents said a senior member of staff talking openly about their mental health would encourage them to feel more comfortable about their own mental health. Ensure that your employees are aware that they can come to you to discuss their health. Reassure staff members that they will get the support and help they need within the workplace.

Build resilience in your people

We cannot completely remove stress, workload pressure, deadlines and difficult relationships in the workplace. However, what we can do is create a ‘coping toolbox’ which the employee can draw on when they feel overwhelmed and anxious. Like a muscle, the more that an individual can draw on their own resilience then the stronger it will get.

Behaviour change workshops and lunchtime sessions create opportunities for employees to take responsibility for their physical and mental health. These also teach them a series of behaviour change skills which can help them to not only ‘manage’ in the workplace, but also thrive.

Addressing engagement

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The damning stat of 3% engagement in health and wellbeing programmes in big business shared by Dame Carol Black in her talk at the MadWorld Summit presents a major challenge. Wellbeing activities should become a habit for the organisation.

To ensure benefits for the employees and business overall engagement must be higher with tools in place to measure. Not only do we want employees to identify themselves we want them to engage for the good of their own welfare and the benefit of the business they work in.

Communication helps but we must provide simple tools, easily accessible and seen to benefit all. Initiatives should be adopted by the leadership and management to aid with adoption. It’s easy to talk but much harder to walk and effect the change you want to make. Simple electronic mood diaries can be a useful way of measuring engagement and tracking how your organisation is feeling.

Activity in the workplace

Movement and exercise are well associated with mental wellness. Giving sedentary employees the opportunities to move are critical for physical as well as mental needs.

There has been a notable shift to consider the employee experience. This shift coincides with the move towards more effective working environments to include visible considerations around health. “Efficiency of space is not the same thing as employee effectiveness” (Stoddart review 2016). Insightful employers are beginning to recognise the impact of the working space and, more importantly, the employee experience. The Stoddart Review (2016) is the first study which looks at the impact of the role that working environments have on organisational and UK productivity. The Stoddart Review demonstrates to employers that an active workplace plays a large part in staff productivity.

Create a positive environment

The workplace should be a happy and welcoming place to be. If you work in an office environment, try to allow plenty of natural daylight into the room and have plants.

Plants are great for cleaning the air, reducing stress and increasing productivity.

Another way to create a positive environment is to inject personality into the workplace. Put staff pictures, achievements and memories up on the walls and allow employees to personalise their desk area.

Ensure that there is a separate, comfortable break area for employees to eat their lunch, catch up with each other and take a proper break from their work. The break area might also have a pool or table tennis table and board games. As well as allowing employees to have a proper break, this will also encourage employees to build strong relationships with each other.

If you’re lucky enough to have the space, perhaps you can also have a relaxation area with comfortable settees, where employees can relax and enjoy some peace and quiet. Having a relaxation area with an outdoor patio space will be great for employees.

About the Author

Michael Lawrence is CEO at YourWellspace YourWellspace is on a mission to revolutionise workforce wellness helping organisations send their employees home healthy. Using a blend of easy to use but cutting edge technologies and effective training, Wellspace offers a real-time indication of how a workforce is feeling with the ability to adapt as change undoubtedly arrives. Drop an email at [email protected] , call on 0808 178 0748 or head to our website to find out more


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