Currently, in the UK, almost 1 in 6 employees are suffering from mental health issues in the workplace. Businesses all have a duty to address this and offer support to staff where they can. After all, organisations perform best when their staff are happy and healthy.
Regardless of this, 87% of employees still do not feel comfortable raising the topic of their mental health at work. Even though there has been a growing conversation around employee wellbeing in recent years, there is clearly far more to do.
But how can businesses offer the right support to ensure that staff can seek help when they need it? We spoke to seven experts to get their insights.
Creating an inclusive culture
Before businesses can truly tackle mental ill-health in the workplace, they must break the taboo around the topic. Hugh Scantlebury, CEO and founder of Aqilla, explains that:
“This won’t happen overnight but providing a comfortable and safe environment for employees to raise issues is crucial. This can be encouraged through regular manager catch-ups that don’t just focus on work performance and progression but also address employee wellbeing, as well as starting an open dialogue about mental health in the office to encourage general discussions on the topic. Marking World Mental Health Day provides the perfect opportunity to kickstart this conversation.”
“Employers need to ensure that their work environment is one in which employees feel comfortable reaching out for help – before they get to a crisis point,”
Adds Rob Shaw, SVP Global Sales at Fluent Commerce.
“Wellbeing initiatives, such as mediation, wellbeing presentations, yoga or dedicated chat platforms, can help to create a culture in which mental wellbeing is discussed openly. In addition, managers should be offered training on how best to support their employees.”
Lindsay Gallard, Chief People Officer at Six Degrees, agrees with the importance of open discussion.
“At Six Degrees we’re proud to stand behind our commitment to mental health awareness, not just on World Mental Health Day but every day,”
“We prioritise the wellbeing of our employees, fostering a workplace where mental health matters. As we often say, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and so, for us, flexibility is key. This involves communicating and raising awareness widely, engaging our people on a range of topics, offering a variety of support and resources, and providing space within our initiatives and working arrangements to help every individual strike the right balance. At the heart of all of this, though, is communication: encouraging openness, really listening, and creating ways forward together.”
Providing the right resources
Once the stigma has been challenged, and employees do feel comfortable asking for help, it’s vital that organisations have the right resources in place to follow through on their actions and provide support. For example, Fluent Commerce’s Shaw explains that:
“At Fluent Commerce, we provide a wide variety of services including coaching, online tools, and counselling. With waiting lists for NHS support currently having month-if not year-long waits, access to counselling services is particularly vital for those seeking support.”
Oksana Chernikova, Employee Experience Director at Intellias, offers another example.
“Intellias supports employees’ mental health through our corporate programme IntelliCare. This program enables employees to join individual or group psychotherapy sessions twice a quarter at the push of a button. We also share bi-weekly updates on an internal platform that includes self-help resources and expert lectures. Additionally, our employee compensation plans include the Mental Health program, covering the cost of any personal psychotherapy costs.”
The technological advantage
But it doesn’t have to all be down to humans. Excitingly, new technologies can now offer a whole range of options when it comes to addressing mental ill-health.
“For example, a chatbot may be the resource that helps people finally acknowledge it is time to seek additional help,”
Outlines Oleksandr Maidaniuk, VP of Technology at Intellias.
“Chatbots have been increasingly used to screen and assess individuals for mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety. IoT-powered wearable devices are leveraged by healthcare providers to monitor the physiological symptoms of their patients, such as heart rate and sleep patterns, that can be indicators of mental health issues. Additionally, combining AI and VR technology enables simulating environments that trigger anxiety or other mental health symptoms, allowing individuals to practise coping skills in a safe setting controlled by a doctor.”
Agata Nowakowska, Head of EMEA Sales at Skillsoft, also points to the potential of AI:
“New and innovative learning platforms now allow organisations to leverage AI simulations to let employees practise difficult or unfamiliar situations and can also enhance sensitivity training for managers looking to improve the support they offer their employees. These tools are transforming the workplace, helping facilitate a culture of support and growth without judgement.”
One final piece of the puzzle when it comes to workplace wellbeing is flexible working. For organisations that are able to offer it, flexible working policies can be a huge boost to morale and allow for a work-life balance that improves mental wellbeing. Fluent’s Shaw explains that they:
“Allow employees to build a better work-life balance and work where and when is best for them, depending on their individual needs, personality and lifestyle. All of these policies together will ensure that staff feel valued and trusted, helping to establish a solid baseline of mental wellbeing.”
Reflecting on his own experience, Bruce Martin, CEO of Tax Systems, argues that flexible working has been the key differentiator for his organisation when it comes to workplace wellbeing.
“It’s entirely ingrained here at Tax Systems,” he explains. “It’s not that we offer it – it’s how we work now. Our people work in a way that suits them – so they can make their afternoon gym class, or late lunch with friends; walk their dog mid-afternoon or do the school run – whatever it is, regardless of justification. We all have lives, and we all experience moments of stress, so having time for what may seem like small things, often makes a big difference. We just ask our people to keep the communication lines open – let their teams and colleagues know when they are and aren’t available. And by trusting our team, and showing understanding and empathy, we have employees who are happy, motivated, and committed.”
A brighter future
It’s clear that leaders are thinking hard about these issues, and it’s encouraging to see so many organisations prioritising wellbeing policies. Mental Health awareness provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on what mental health support you offer, and what more you could be doing to ensure they are truly putting their employees first. Employee wellbeing initiatives are no longer a nice to have, they are a necessity.
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