Lilli Hender, Office Genie

Lilli Hender, staff writer at Office Genie, considers the current state of mental health in the workplace and what can be done to improve it.

When it comes to mental health in the workplace, an increasing number of companies are beginning to take the topic seriously. Initiatives to boost 'workplace wellbeing' are becoming a popular inclusion in employee benefits packages, and Google trends data reveals searches for the term have steadily grown in the UK over the past five years.

So what do workplace wellbeing measures mean in real terms? It can involve anything from providing wellness workshops (on areas such as stress, sleep, or nutrition) to gym memberships and free fruit.

Taking a holistic approach to wellbeing will aid mental health, but it’s important for employers to recognise that mental health is an area in and of itself that needs to be catered for.

In our recent Workplace Happiness Report, it was revealed that more than half (51%) of employees with mental health issues believe support structures are inadequate. The survey of 2,000 office workers found that those with mental health issues are on average twice as unhappy in their place of work. Such findings demonstrate the need for better mental health support in Britain’s workplaces.  

So what steps can be taken? When we asked respondents the ways in which employers could best handle mental health, the top solutions were, in fact, by providing wellness initiatives. There is real scope within this and sometimes, the more innovative solutions, the better.

Yet it’s important to note that use of such initiatives should not be mandatory but optional - otherwise what may have been designed as a source of wellbeing could become a source of stress.

Further support was also desired and this came in the form of:

  • More open discussions about mental health: Discussions can take place during staff updates to raise awareness or perhaps if an employer doesn’t feel qualified to cover the topic, an expert speaker can be invited in.  
  • Clearer policies on the matter: Like with most workplace matters, communication is key. Policies exist to make life smoother for both parties. It’s important to have mental health policies in place, and accessible: this enables people to get to grips with any processes involved on a more private basis before informing the relevant member of staff.  
  • Funding for external support: This isn’t meant in the sense of a membership to a yoga class, rather funding for support aimed directly at tackling a mental health condition. This could be paying for a form of counselling for example, such as cognitive behavioural therapy or a mindfulness course.
  • Regular HR consultations: HR have a fundamental role to play when it comes to looking after employees’ wellbeing and mental health. They will most likely be the primary point of contact should a staff member wish to discuss such matters. Regular meetings ensure both sides work together to find solutions that best suit the needs of the employee.
  • Flexible/remote working: Having the ability to work from home, or work altered hours, can make a huge difference to staff experiencing mental health issues. The pressure of having to turn up to the office, nine to five, five days a week can be difficult at even the best of times.

Of the 31 million working people in the UK, last year around half a million had a documented case of stress, anxiety or depression. Yet when 1 in 4 people experience a mental health issue each year, it suggests many more needed workplace support, and still do.

While there are continuing breakthroughs, it’s clear still more needs to be done to create workplaces that are open and accepting and supportive towards mental health.