In tackling issues to protect mental health, organisations can ensure a thriving workplace with better outcomes and happier people, says Stella Andersen.


22nd January 2021

With poor mental health costing organisations between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, many employers are waking up to the fact that planning a mental health and wellbeing strategy is a way of creating a highly productive work environment where everyone can thrive.

Those who love their jobs are more likely to describe their place of work as having a supportive team environment – and are therefore more likely to go the extra mile.

Sustaining a connection when we are physically distanced because of Covid-19 is more important than ever, particularly as the new way of working looks set to remain for some time; for example, the Gartner CFO survey revealed that 74 per cent of finance leaders will move at least five per cent of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions.  

Leaders need to be active in finding new ways of working together to encourage a two-way conversation and create a feeling of belonging and team unity, despite the challenges of working remotely.

Lead by example

The most effective way to mitigate stress is, of course, to prevent it.

Encouraging leaders to communicate their own feelings and concerns can provide pathways of support. BP’s Bernard Looney was one of the first CEOs to take the initiative and speak out on mental health issues, actively championing its cause and choosing to wear the Every Mind Matters badge.

Being vulnerable and sharing as a leader can normalise issues with mental health.

Buffer Tech CEO Joel Gascoigne openly addressed his own mental health problems during a Harvard Business Review podcast. He talked about how breaking the stigma around mental health had led to a more open and trustworthy working culture which had, in turn, become more productive. He discussed implementing more flexibility, giving the example of allowing a day off for mental health as one of many ways that managers can enact change to support their staff.

Manage the risks

Communication professionals need to focus on several different approaches to supporting mental health in their organisation and engaging with staff.  

Firstly, staff need to know that anxiety is a normal response to stress and that support can be provided. Listening with compassion and acting with kindness actively connects a team. The legacy of the Time to Change Employers Programme established an awareness of this in the workplace.   

Training for a certificate in Mental Health First Aid, as offered by MHFA among others, is a way of formalising this. The MHFA advises companies to have as many mental health first aiders as physical first aiders, and that they should be trained to manage the risks by providing opportunities to talk and taking steps to resolve problems.  

Recognising your own and others’ vulnerabilities can connect us and unlock the key to our resilience. We can manage expectations and facilitate a new working environment by providing, for example:
•    regular check-ins for staff
•    a 15 min tea break
•    a clear structure for work tasks.

Trust in me

Our mental health in the workplace has become more important than ever before as companies seek to support their staff in a more understanding way.

Companies engaging with employees to support their mental wellbeing will become critical for businesses to thrive as, according to the WHO, “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing”.

More than half of employees (53%) who responded to IoIC’s Covid-19 survey, considered health and mental wellbeing as the topics of most concern to determine an employer of choice, and the results of the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer determined that 73 per cent of employees expect a prospective employer to shape the future of society and change it for the better.

Let’s keep talking

As communication professionals, we are well placed to counsel, prepare and manage a transition strategy towards a different and better future in the workplace.

Cultivating a proactive culture from the top down to check-in and communicate with staff if they are struggling will drive positive change, not forgetting to make sure the message is sensitive and relatable to all generations.

To motivate, maximise inclusion and ensure goals are met, change should include training in mental health first aid for face-to-face contact, as well as investing in different mental health channels and tools, giving all employees a chance to talk wherever they can choose, including blogs, vlogs and other online communities.

The plan of support should establish the point of contact for any mental health concerns, to keep us talking. This must include those implementing the plan; as clinical psychologist Dr Nick Taylor, co-founder of Unmind, says, “it’s important to ensure they too have an accessible and non-judgemental place to turn to if they need support, so they can continue to deliver support for the workforce”.

Once your company’s mental health plan is established, make sure it is easily accessible and available, both in hard copy and on the intranet. If your organisation does not have a plan, then a good place to start is by following the guide on implementing the Thriving at Work standards, put forward by Mind in collaboration with the UK government’s Stevenson/Farmer Review.

This report advocates six key questions to ask yourself when constructing your plan:
•    How will you promote the wellbeing of all staff?
•    How will you tackle the work-related causes of mental health problems?
•    How will you support staff experiencing poor mental health?        
•    How will you signpost relevant sources of information both inside and outside of your organisation?             
•    How will you offer clear objectives which are shaped around your organisational vision?      
•    How will you reference the Equality Act 2010, acknowledging that mental health may be classified as a disability?       
The charity Mental Health at Work has taken this a step further and launched a commitment, curated by Mind, and supported by the Royal Foundation, to support mental health in the workplace. It offers a roadmap to achieving better mental health support and outcomes for employees, allowing them a healthier and more sustainable future. Almost 700 companies have signed up since late 2019.

Could your company join them?

Stella Andersen is a communications consultant. She started out as a BBC Radio producer specialising in language programmes. She has since worked in both the private and public sectors alongside communication teams to improve employee engagement, manage crisis communication and build strategic programmes by focusing on a close cooperation with our European neighbours. 


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