[Part 2] Organisation Culture and Workplace Wellbeing

Wellbeing at Work is a vast topic. There is a wealth of information and for any organisation just getting to grips with mental health support in the workplace, it can be difficult to know where to start. We are looking at this important topic in six parts across this year.

In Part 1, we focused on the importance of mentally healthy workplaces.

Disclosure, Stigma and Discrimination

According to a 2016 study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 43% of employees felt uncomfortable disclosing poor mental health to their employer or manager, whereas contra to this in a 2018 Mind Survey 49% of employees felt their employer supported their mental health. Whilst this suggests that employers are starting to address the issues concerning mental health, this barrier of ‘disclosure’ is causing a knock-on effect. Lack of disclosure (perhaps due to perceived stigma) might mean that employers feel they are doing enough to support mental health in the workplace because they can’t see the fuller picture. In fact, low levels of reported mental health-related sickness may be masking the fact that people are experiencing mental health problems but are not comfortable to disclose them because they are concerned that they will face prejudice.

This is very indicative of the Construction Industry whereby figures suggest construction workers are unlikely to seek help, with only 0.7% of workers reporting stress-related illness (compared to 1.4% for all industries). Combine this with the macho culture in construction, job insecurity, heavy workloads, long hours, high-risk tasks, lack of routine and separation from family, makes it important that companies look at ways of overcoming this vicious circle.

A way of tackling this ‘vicious circle’ is to address organisation culture.

Factors affecting Workplace Culture

The key factors that influence organisational culture include:

  • Work/life balance;
  • Leadership;
  • Communication and being listened to;
  • Relationships and support systems;
  • Diversity and inclusion;
  • Unrealistic expectations and level of autonomy

Work/Life Balance

Encouraging a good work/life balance and supporting flexible working practices are important.

Workplace triggers for stress and mental health problems include long hours and no breaks and inability to use annual leave, suggesting that work / life balance is key to good mental wellbeing.

If employees work to live rather than live to work, they may find the increasing pressure to be at work negatively impacts their sense of wellbeing. However, if employees enjoy their work, the pressure to work hard may actually have a positive effect on overall wellbeing.

If employees are given support in finding a sense of purpose in their work, then this can improve their commitment and performance. It is a good idea to encourage staff to think about their motivations and their purpose in a way that supports the aims of the project. Sharing the values and intent of the organisation is a good starting point.

Many factors influence a sense of job satisfaction. They can be divided into two categories, intrinsic satisfaction and extrinsic satisfaction. Intrinsic satisfaction is satisfaction with the job, i.e. the process of doing the job gives someone the feeling of contentment and fulfilment or happiness. Extrinsic satisfaction is satisfaction with the work conditions such as salary, job security, the place of work and the quality of line management. Together they form the employees overall job satisfaction.

Surveys consistently show the top three issues standing in the way of job satisfaction are:

  1. Managers who are not supportive
  2. Not having the resources and freedom to succeed
  3. No opportunity for professional growth

There is also a correlation between job satisfaction, an individuals work and the company’s goals and values. Being made aware of how the job is directly supporting a larger outcome of the project can encourage staff to stay engaged and remain motivated.

Provide your team with meaningful work and opportunities for personal development and growth, and managers should lead by example in terms of working sensible hours, taking breaks, and using annual leave.


Effective managers help employees to manage their workloads, create opportunities for coaching and learning, and promote a culture of open dialogue – all of which help to boost staff mental wellbeing and employee engagement levels.

Essential manager behaviours that help employees to feel valued and well supported to do their job include; offering clarity; appreciation of employees’ effort and contribution; treating people as individuals; and ensuring that work is organised efficiently and effectively.

Managers can spot signs by being alert to potential triggers, such as: long hours and no breaks; unrealistic expectations or deadlines; high-pressure environments; a poor working environment; unmanageable workloads or lack of control over work; negative relationships or poor communication; poor managerial support; job insecurity or change management; high-risk roles; lone working.

Communication and being listened to

A workplace culture where employees feel able to voice ideas and are listened to, both about how they do their job and in broader decision-making about the organisation’s direction of travel, is also a key driver of employee engagement. This is because employees feel more committed to the organisation’s goals when they feel that their work is meaningful and valued.

Regular supervisions or one-to-one meetings are crucial to build trust and give employees a chance to raise issues at an early stage.

Relationships and Support Systems

The cultural environment has a big impact on the individuals working in it. The key to a good quality relationship is in feeling supported. This introduces the issues of trust and openness. If the culture of the organisation ignores the importance of relationships and support systems, they are likely to have less happy staff, lower levels of productivity and ultimately lower levels of profit.

It is also important to recognise that company culture is embedded within the wider industry culture and national and international cultures. As such company culture is never set; it is constantly involving and changing.

At an individual level, social events can give the workforce a chance to meet up in a more relaxed setting. This can encourage a sense of belonging, improve personal relationships and, in turn, improves teamwork. There is strong evidence to support the idea that the better people know each other, the better they work together.

Diversity, Inclusion and Stigma

People work better, feel happier and stay in a role longer if they feel fairly treated, included and respected (CITB, 2018). Conversely, bullying, harassment and discrimination are issues that alienate employees and lose potential.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it a legal duty for organisations to ensure the principles of fairness, inclusion and respect are applied in all its operations. So, there is a legal basis for taking action on this issue, besides the more important moral one that ensures that staff can enjoy their work and achieve.

Mental health issues are common, normal even, and there is every likelihood that the person will overcome them. However, the stigma of mental health can prevent people from getting the help they need. Companies may not get the best performance out of a significant proportion of the workforce if they do not tackle this stigma.

However, it is important to acknowledge that there still remains a cultural stigma around mental ill health and that some people have prejudices and attitudes that can make life uncomfortable for others.

It is possible to break down the stigma surrounding mental health problems into two types, social stigma and self-stigma. Social stigma is imposed on the person through negative attitudes and discriminatory behaviours of others. Whereas self-stigma is an internalisation of negative feelings and behaviours often experienced as shame and anxiety. Organisations need to work on both of these types of stigma.

Most importantly, it is a journey. Stigma doesn’t disappear overnight. It is useful to think about the theory of marginal gains (as developed by Dave Brailsford for British Cycling) whereby tiny changes consistently applied over time can have a significant effect.

Unrealistic Expectations and Level of Autonomy

Other triggers of poor mental health and stress include unrealistic expectations, unmanageable workloads, and having no autonomy in their role.

Staff benefit the most from support in monitoring their workload and encouragement to work healthy working hours and management of a positive work/life balance.

Employers can make sure that deadlines are reasonable, that work is clearly defined and well matched to each employee’s abilities and that people understand their role in the bigger picture.

Positive Organisational Culture that Supports Mental Wellbeing

Organisations need to send a clear signal to staff that their mental health matters and being open about it will lead to support, not discrimination. A simple way to communicate this is to explain that mental health will be treated in the same way as physical health.

Organisations can back this commitment up with a clear mental health strategy and specific policies to ensure employees experiencing mental health problems get the support they need straight away.

The key factors that influence mental health in the workplace include:

  • Mental health on the agenda
  • Policies and practices
  • Confidence of managers
  • Staff perceptions
  • Support pathways
  • Prevalence of mental health problems

Trust and integrity are key drivers of engagement – employees need to see the organisation lives its values and does what it says it will in terms of treating its people well.



Does your Organisation Culture Support Good Mental Health?

If you take proactive steps to create a more open and supportive culture, over time staff should begin to feel more confident to talk to managers about their mental health. However, it’s important to remember culture change is a gradual process and the individual relationships between managers and employees are the key to getting this right.

By developing a clear picture of the mental health of your organisation, you’ll be able to:

  • Understand the factors that affect staff mental wellbeing in your workplace
  • Identify what you’re already doing to support it
  • Assess the impact your current approach is having
  • Plan further improvements, enhance morale and increase productivity

Carrying out an assessment of your workplace can give a clear picture of the state of the organisation as a whole.

Employers have a duty to assess the risks arising from hazards at work, including work-related mental health problems (Health and Safety at Work Act 1974). Mental health in the workplace is a health and safety issue. However, it also should be viewed as a diversity issue and organisations should review all of their policies to ensure that they take account of the impact these processes can have on an employee’s mental wellbeing.

In particular, employers should review their policies on:

  • Performance management
  • Disciplinary action
  • Recruitment
  • Change management
  • Redundancy
  • Equality, diversity and inclusion
  • Bullying and harassment

The Importance of Line Managers

A leader’s ability to engage and support their team has a huge effect on staff wellbeing, and the quality of line managers skills is seen as the most important factor.

Managers need to be approachable and confident about mental health and should take steps to normalise conversations about it and encourage open dialogue.

Regular one-to-one meetings and catch-ups (which should always be in a private and confidential setting) are a great place to ask your staff how they’re getting on and doing so regularly will help build trust and give employees a chance to raise problems at an early stage.

Basic good people management and the use of empathy and common sense by managers lies at the heart of effective management of mental health in the workplace. If an individual does not trust their line manager, they are unlikely to want to discuss a sensitive issue such as mental health with them. Managers need to ensure that they are seen as approachable and listen when staff ask for help.

Managers should also be mindful of whether the workplace culture is conducive to encouraging people to talk about their mental health, including disclosure. Shying away from the subject can perpetuate fear of stigma and increase feelings of anxiety. Often employees will not feel confident in speaking up, so a manager making the first move to open up a dialogue can be key.

Employers need to communicate clearly through policies on stress management or mental health that people with issues will be supported and outline what help is available.

As a manager, it is important to create the right culture within your team:

  1. Lead by example
  2. Build your confidence on mental health
  3. Normalise mental health
  4. Take stock
  5. Be available for your staff
  6. Treat people as individuals
  7. Embed employee engagement
  8. Create opportunities for coaching, learning and development
  9. Promote positive work relationships
  10. Raise awareness



Compiled from an article authored by Gemma Esprey, the Callsafe Services Mental Health First Aider, that first appeared in the April 2020 edition of Callsafe Today.