Mental Health in the Workplace Guide


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Mental health in the workplace guide
Mental health in the workplace overview

Mental health in the workplace overview

The case for mental health awareness has stormed the headlines over recent years. You only need to look as far as campaigns such as Time To Change, Mental Health Awareness Week and Heads Up (which was initiated by Prince William himself).

This campaigning and awareness has never been so important: recent research by mental health charity, Mind, found that in any given week in England, 1 in 6 of us struggle with our mental health. That’s around 9.2 million of us. Let’s just let that sink in.

The topic of mental health is becoming an increasingly big part of the wellbeing- conversation in the workplace. And this is no surprise – The Breathe Sick Report 2019 found that out of 32,568 million sick days that were taken in the SME sector during the last year, mental illness was the culprit for an astonishing 58% of them.

And the shocking statistics don’t stop there: we also discovered that burnout is costing the UK economy £1.4 billion a year through unexplained sick days – so, it’s needless to say it’s a business issue as much as it is a health one.

Promoting mental wellness in the workplace is vitally important if you’re striving to build and maintain a happy, productive workforce that is set to grow. And we’ll take a wild guess and say that growth is on your to-do list.

So, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to provide you with 10 powerful, practical steps for you take away and apply within your business. These steps will help you support your employees’ mental health, invest in their wellbeing and, ultimately, sky- rocket productivity.

Let’s dig in.

1. Take a temperature check

Mental health guide 1-minIf you want to know how you can build on the support you’re offering for mental health, a great place to start is by looking at what you’re already doing.

What measures do you currently have in place to support mental health? What are you doing well and what could you improve?

By assessing where you are currently, you’ll know which areas need focusing on.

As well as asking yourself these questions, it may also be a good idea to approach your people. An effective way of doing this is by creating a survey - you’ll be able to get direct, honest opinions on what you’re currently doing to support mental health in the workplace, as well as what you need to do to improve.

And, with productivity increasing by 12% in workplaces where mental wellbeing is addressed, just taking that first step can benefit your people (and your business, too).


2. Tackle the stigma around mental health

Mental health guide 2-minNext is an incredibly important step.

Mental health is too often that big elephant in the room that everyone avoids discussing. Which - considering 1 in 4 of us experience mental health problems each year - is ludicrous.

And this can be a vicious circle: if employers are unsure of how to approach mental health and avoid the subject completely, employees may feel afraid of opening up to them about their struggles. And, if employees aren’t talking about their mental health, employers won’t learn how to approach it. Go figure.

Not to mention that it can be twice as difficult - especially in today’s world, when prejudices are still rife – to open up about mental health as an employee. It can be an incredibly scary step, mainly because of the uncertainty of how it could be received by their employer. Those who are struggling may fear being judged or maybe even that they could be perceived differently on a professional level because of their mental health problems.

But it all starts with you, their employer. You have the power to combat this by educating your workforce and starting the discussion - thus making it easier to speak up about mental health struggles.

Here are some ideas to help you get started:

open communication

3. Support open communication

The Breathe Sick Report 2019 found that only a third (34%) of employees feel comfortable calling in sick to their current employer for mental health reasons. But it doesn’t have to be this way; by developing a culture of openness you’ll help your employees feel comfortable enough to discuss their mental health issues with you, should they be struggling. 

Mental health guide 5-min-minCommunication between you and your employees need to be a two-way street when it comes to mental health. You should encourage your staff to be open and honest with you. Let them know that if they’re having a bad day they should speak out and not suffer in silence. Equally, making the first move and regularly checking in on your staff can be a great way to encourage open communication and normalise the topic of mental health as a whole.

Make sure communication methods are seamless. Establish an ‘open-door policy’ to let your employees know you’re always available should they need to talk. Schedule regular one-to ones to catch up with employees, check in on them and give them regular opportunities to talk about things on their mind.


4. Encourage a work-life balance

We probably know at least one person that works through their lunch break or stays late most nights. Known as presenteeism, this habit isn’t uncommon: our research found that more than half (55%) of employees admit to having worked through their lunch hour in the last month, and a quarter (24%) even worked on days outside of their normal working pattern. Pretty staggering, right?

But, working yourself into the ground does you no good whatsoever. It’s a one-way ticket to stress, poor mental health and burnout (just take a look at Japan’s 'Karoshi culture’). It’s unhealthy for your business, too – if your people aren’t on form, productivity will naturally suffer along with morale and employee performance.

In fact, research shows that working less hours can actually be more productive – so staying late may not actually be the answer if you have lots of work to do. Some companies have even switched to working 6-hour days or four-day weeks to replace the traditional 9-to-5.

Encouraging a work-life balance can go a long way - but it starts with you, the employer. If you lead by example and practice what you preach, your people are more likely to follow in your steps.

Actively encouraging your employees to take their full lunch break, finish on time and avoid checking their emails outside of their working hours will help build a balanced, people-first culture in which your team thrive.


5. Peer support

No matter how easy you try and make it for your employees to open up to you, sometimes they’ll just feel ten-times more comfortable speaking to someone who isn’t their manager. It’s nothing personal.

Setting up a mentoring system within your business can be a great way of getting your employees talking to each other about their mental health and providing valuable, one- on-one support.

Mental health guide 7-minA lot of companies - us included - run a Buddy System to help new starters settle into their role and find their feet with the business. While this can be really effective for new employees, it can also bring benefits to existing employees who are suffering with their mental health. Having a designated person to turn to can provide a sense of safety and comfort that they may not otherwise have in the workplace.


6. Tackle work-related triggers

In order to support your employees’ mental health, digging further into the work-related causes is a great place to start.

Take a look at the processes within your business. Is there anything that stands out that could cause unnecessary stress? Is it a high-pressured environment? Do many employees work alone? Could you make the hours more flexible? Are your employees’ workloads manageable?

The questions you should be asking don’t stop here. And they depend on what kind of business you have - and its culture.

Here are some tips from us on how to minimise the work-related triggers:

  • Consider flexible working
  • Encourage employees to regularly get some headspace (like a short walk around the block, or it could be as simple as stepping away from their desk to make a cuppa)
  • Encourage employees to use their annual leave
  • Make sure employees are taking their full lunch breaks
  • Set reasonable deadlines and regularly check in with employees to ensure their workloads are manageable
  • Schedule regular one-to-ones and keep communication channels open

7. Offer top-notch benefits

Offering benefits comes with a cost, but we promise it’s worth it.

Investing in a great benefits package not only attracts the best candidates to help grow your business, but also makes sure they’re looked after once they’re on board. It shows you are genuinely invested in the wellbeing of your people – and there’s a lot to be said for having a caring boss.

There are many different types of benefits you can offer, and it’s completely down to you as to what you feel is best for your business.

Here are some benefits you can offer that can support your staff's mental health:

  • Flexible working
  • Private healthcare
  • Discounted gym membership
  • Sick pay
  • An employee assistance programme (EAP)
  • Social events, such as team building activities or a company lunch
  • A generous holiday allowance

8. Invest in your company culture

Company culture is an increasingly common buzzword in today’s world. And it’s hardly surprising: our Culture Economy Report found that toxic company cultures are costing the UK economy £23.6 billion annually (yes, that much. Really.).

Adopting a positive culture that nurtures your people can have a massive effect on job satisfaction, how engaged your people are with their roles and – ultimately – their mental health.

But we’re not talking about beanbags and football tables here. The material stuff doesn’t matter. Your company culture is about the way things are done within your business. It’s about your values, the way people treat each other, your attitudes, your leadership style and the working environment.

Nail (and maintain) a strong company culture and your people will feel valued, fully-engaged with the business and like they’re part of something great – all hugely beneficial to their mental health.

Mental health guide 13-min-minHere are our 4 tips for building on your company culture:

  • Establish your core values and align them with your practice
  • Decide what culture-success looks like and how you can measure it
  • Hire people who reflect and support your values
  • Commit to your workplace culture by joining the Breathe Culture Pledge

9. Build a mental health policy

Implementing a mental health policy is a great way of centralising and acknowledging your attitudes towards mental health and nailing down how your business is to approach it. It creates firm guidelines as to how mental health issues are dealt with within the organisation, forming an important part of your company culture.

More than anything, it reinforces the fact that you take mental health seriously – which can be hugely re-assuring to both any existing employees that might be suffering as well as new employees joining the company.

It’s a good idea to get employees involved and ask for them to review and contribute to your mental health policy. Encourage feedback, discussion and ideas – it can be a great way to get the conversation flowing around mental health and ensures that the policy benefits everyone.

Mental health guide 15-min



10. Promote positive working relationships

Having your employees getting along well is always a bonus and is something you should strive for. But, it can be particularly beneficial when it comes to their mental health, too.

If two of your people are clashing, it’s likely to cause them both stress and – let’s face it – it’s not going to do their mental health any good. And let’s not even get started on business productivity and morale.

So, providing your employees with the support and means to build strong, durable working relationships is clearly something that should be at the top of your to-do list. Build a culture that’s built on honesty, mutual respect and collaboration and your employees will reap the benefits - and so will you. After all, a strong team makes for strong results.

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