Prioritising workers mental health ensures a happy, productive workforce. For companies taking their first steps to improve workplace mental health policies and processes, it is important to remember that this is a learning process and a long-term commitment to a better way of working, which not only positively impacts individuals but also the company as a whole.
The ‘Time to Change Pledge’, led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, is England’s biggest programme to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination. The pledge offers companies an opportunity to make a public statement of aspiration to tackle mental health stigma in their workplace and develop an action plan, detailing tangible activities, to bring this about. This can be a great place to start but it needs to be backed up with action or individuals won’t engage if they see it merely as tokenistic. A number of companies from the construction industry have signed up to the Pledge including Costain, BAM and Mace to name a few.
It is essential to get senior leaders on board. This sends a clear message to all staff that wellbeing matters to the organisation. Companies can embed employee engagement through a culture of open dialogue. Include an agenda item at the end of team meetings to discuss wellbeing. It might feel strange at first, and individuals may be reserved until they feel comfortable, but talking will help to normalise conversations about mental health, and this in turn builds trust.
If line managers don’t feel confident about mental health, they should make it a priority to know their mental health policies and procedures and routinely publicise internal and external support pathways to staff. Mental Health First Aid courses can be a great place to start and managers can share with the team what they have learned to open up the first discussions. Mental Health England are now offering training online during the coronavirus crisis. For more information, visit: https://mhfaengland.org/
Line managers should lead by example and actively encourage the team to work sensible hours, take full lunch breaks and annual leave and adopt any other healthy working habits. Regular catch-ups and one-to-ones need to be the norm in order to build good relationships and trust. People need to be treated as individuals, praised for good work and offered support. Give permission to talk about home as well as work; we are all human beings after all. Create space for staff to ask questions and raise issues.
In this current time, we are all facing big changes due to the Covid-19 pandemic and many of us are working from home, starting to discuss a return to the office, or thinking about blended approaches to working. This means it is more important than ever to encourage communication through phone calls, video chats, emails and messages, to help teams stay connected and feel valued.
In order to develop an atmosphere of trust, it’s a good idea for line managers to ask for feedback about the support being provided. The following list provides ideas of ways to promote dialogue, feedback and engagement:
- Staff surveys
- Focus groups
- Staff forums
- Diversity networks
- Engagement steering groups
- Monthly or quarterly performance review meetings
- Improvement or planning ‘away days’
- Regular group problem-solving meetings or innovation events
- Work-stream groups that bring together different parts of the organisation
- Feeding back board decisions to all staff
- Effectively using internal communication channels
Ask your team to prioritise what they think the key issues are and agree timescales together. You could also explore whether team members want to lead on certain parts of the action plan so people start to recognise that everyone has a role to play in maintaining a mentally healthy workplace.
Going forward, mental health should be embedded in induction training so new staff members know it is a priority, how it is managed and what support is available to them.
If you are looking to raise the profile of mental health within your company and are not sure where to begin, these tips might be useful:
- inviting a speaker can be a good idea to get the conversation started
- internal communication channels can be used to raise awareness through blogs, factsheets, tips for managers, useful web links, FAQs, posters and newsletters
- encouraging mental health champions at all levels sends a clear message that disclosure is not a barrier to career development
Often employees will not feel confident in speaking up, so a manager making the first move to open up a dialogue can be key. You can’t force someone to disclose and a manager should not suggest that someone is ill.
Take positive action to address any issues identified in discussions. When employees are involved in finding solutions, they feel ownership of the final decision and morale and productivity levels are less likely to be affected by changes.
It is in everyone’s best interests to prioritise mental health in the workplace.