Building mentally healthy workplaces – reflecting on the barriers and progress so far


We hear a lot about progress in workplace mental health and wellbeing, but whilst recognition of organisations’ responsibility is growing, are we really making a difference? If not, why not?

In this article, in advance of taking part in an opening keynote panel at the MAD World Summit on 12th October 2023, Sarah Hughes, CEO at Mind, talks about where we are with fostering a supportive and inclusive approach to mental health at work – and why we need to go much further.

We know that the pandemic increased focus and expedited workplace wellbeing agendas, with more attention given to implementing mental health initiatives at work.

In addition, I’m pleased to see that awareness is increasing that ‘reactive mental health support’ at the point of illness alone is not enough, and that more preventative measures are needed to improve policy and practice around employee mental health to enable people to thrive at work.

We are now experiencing the positive effects of this effort, with the results of Mind’s 2021/22 Workplace Wellbeing Index showing that more employees reported that they had good or very good mental health, and fewer stating that they experienced a mental health problem in their present role compared to the previous year.

Almost three in five of us have experienced poor mental health in our current jobs

Despite these positive findings, there are worrying trends which threaten the future state of mental health at work. Mind’s 2021/22 Workplace Wellbeing Index also found that organisations appear to be experiencing ‘wellbeing fatigue’, with mental health and wellbeing beginning to make fewer appearances on strategic agendas.

Mind’s latest research discovered that almost three in five of us (57 per cent) have experienced poor mental health in our current jobs. Already, fewer employees are disclosing mental health problems to their employers and fewer are being honest when mental health has been a reason for absence when compared to last year. This decline was particularly prominent amongst specific employee communities, including LGBTQIA+ workers.

It’s clear there’s a growing need to support mental health in the workplace.

But what can we do about this?

Senior leaders understand the case for investment

Mental Health at Work, a workplace wellbeing programme curated by Mind, recently surveyed the signatories of the Mental Health Commitment. We found that the vast majority of respondents strongly agreed that their senior leaders understood the case for investment in the mental health of their workforce.

What’s more, the leading reason for employers signing the Commitment was to signal to their employees the importance they place on the mental health of their staff. The second most reported reason was to attract future talent.

We are greatly encouraged by this finding – employers are increasingly coming to the realisation that they need to do more to improve the wellbeing of their most valuable resource, their human capital. And by signing the Mental Health at Work Commitment, they are taking tangible steps to make the world of work a healthier, fairer and kinder place for everyone.

We know that a unified approach to mental health, with long term investment from the government into a mixture of support and regulatory changes to improve workplace mental health practices and policies, is crucial for the future of work that allows all to thrive.

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This includes a fairer and more flexible system for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) that supports employees with their mental health earlier on by reducing their hours temporarily, and phased returns to work after a mental health related absence. Statutory Sick Pay does not currently allow for this.

A one size fits all approach is not enough

We know that LGBTQIA+ employees, identifying as people of colour and young employees aged 18-24 are more likely to have poor mental health at work (Mind 2021/22 Workplace Wellbeing Index). They also report lower levels of disclosure, and comfort when considering disclosing mental health problems.

Going forward, it will be critically important for organisations to build their awareness of the needs of different employee groups, working with employee inclusion groups, as well as creating tailored wellbeing resources and strategies.

A one size fits all approach is not enough any more – we must be person-centred in approach if we are to create mentally healthy workplaces for all employees.

While line managers are improving in their role modelling of good wellbeing behaviours, they are experiencing a lack of confidence in their abilities to support those with mental health issues in the workplace, in turn impacting employee belief in their capabilities.

The World Health Organisation’s recommendations for employers published last year drew attention to the importance of managers, suggesting they are in a strong position to create positive change for their reports.

You don’t need to do it alone

Going forward, supportive and well-informed line management will be crucial in tackling the challenges we’ve seen. Line managers need the right training and knowledge to act as a trusted source of support and restore their capacity to promote mental health for those they manage, with support from senior leadership.

Ultimately, employers do not need to travel this road alone – there is plenty of information, guidance, advice and services such as our Mental health at Work programme to help them make the changes they need and to best support their employees to thrive in work.

Sarah Hughes will be joining us at the MAD World Summit on 12th October, along with an an impressive roster of speakers from Age UK, BAM UK&I, BBC, Belron, BITC, Britvic, Costain, Deloitte, Dentsu, EY, Goldman Sachs, Heath Foundation, Heathrow, HSBC, IBM, Ipsos, Mars, Metro Bank, Microsoft, Mind, National Grid, Novartis, Unipart, Royal Bank of Scotland, Starbucks and many more

If you haven’t booked your tickets yet, don’t miss out. You can find full details and book here.

The full version of this article originally appeared on Mind’s website here.

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