Mental Health Awareness Week: 4 powerful principles to drive better mental health at work

According to MHFA England, poor mental health accounts for over half (51%) of workplace related illness. Research by Deloitte also shows that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £56 billion annually.

Given the profound human impact and phenomenal cost to businesses, it has become more important than ever for leaders to develop effective and proactive strategies to support their people. However, evidence shows there is a long way to go in the UK, as less than half of UK businesses have a comprehensive well-being strategy.

This Mental Health Awareness Week (13th - 19th May), David Rice, HR expert at People Managing People, shares 4 key principles businesses can abide by in order to drive better mental health at work.

1. Work to measure impact

While studies have found that investing in employee mental health can offer a real return on investment (ROI) only 3 in 10 UK employers have a designated budget for health and wellness.

Out of those, less than 1 in 10 actively measure ROI of their wellbeing programmes. This means that the majority of HR teams are having to build the investment case, raid other budget pots, or figure out how to drive change without spending money. Sadly, we all know which budgets tend to be cut during economic downturns. Life doesn’t get any easier for already beleaguered People Teams.

Some tangible steps that can be taken include:

  • Don’t just measure how many people show up to the presentation, but follow up a couple of weeks later to see if anyone is doing anything differently as a result.
  • Look at whether employee engagement metrics shift after you introduce new initiatives.
  • Look at behavioural data, too. Is there a correlation between participation and retention? Are programs reducing absence or sick days?
  • If you’re working with external partners, ask them to share evidence with you that proves their programmes work and sustain impact over time.
  • Share this data with whoever’s signing off budgets and don’t be afraid to stop doing what’s not working and double down on what is!

2. Utilise your company’s existing ecosystem to avoid overloading people

It’s easy to get carried away by launching too many initiatives and overwhelming people, so repurpose existing time for activities to support wellbeing, rather than asking more of people. 

For example, could you launch initiatives like ‘Focus Fridays’, clearing people of client and internal meetings to give them time to do deep work?

Try also using the company’s values to encourage desired behaviours. Most companies will have a set of corporate values, so try looking at these with a fresh lens to unearth ideas to support employee wellbeing.

For example, initiatives such as giving everyone in the company a ‘Me Day’ so they can take an additional day off and expense a small amount to do something meaningful to them.

3. Focus on activities that proactively strengthen the collective, rather than reactively ‘fix’ individuals 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on solutions that remedy individual health, such as promoting access to free therapy sessions, asking people to talk with a Mental Health First Aider or teaching resilience skills.

These reactive ‘fixes’ are an important part of the mix, but they fail to tap into a major driver of positive mental health: the power of the group.

There’s a wealth of evidence to demonstrate that social interconnectedness, and the quality and strength of the relationships that we have with co-workers, has a powerful influence on our physical and mental health.

4. Embrace the power of role modelling to shift culture 

53% of C-Suite executives have said they struggle with mental health issues. It can be incredibly powerful in reducing the stigma about talking about mental health at work if senior people in your organisation speak openly about their personal challenges. 

Role-modelling positive behaviours you want others to emulate can go a long way to building a more mentally healthy workplace. Make sure to encourage leaders and managers to create boundaries around their working day, and ask senior leaders to openly share when they’re taking a ‘mental health day’ to recharge. Encourage people to stop sending emails when they’re on holiday or off sick too.