When did you join Mind and how long have you been working in this area?
I joined Mind in 2007 and since 2010, have led Mind’s work supporting employers to create mentally healthy workplaces. I have also supported networks of employers and stakeholders to share best practice and develop business-to-business peer support. Through engaging with employers, health and safety professionals, HR audiences and Government on issues such as mental health in the workplace and back-to-work support for people with mental health problems, we have seen a seismic shift in how employers view workplace wellbeing.
We’ve seen organisations move away from managing sickness absence purely on a reactive basis, to a more proactive and sensitive approach, making sure workplaces are doing all they can to tackle the work-related causes of poor mental health among their staff. For the last three years, we’ve been delivering our Workplace Wellbeing Index, a benchmark of best policy and practice when it comes to employers promoting good mental health among their employees.
Why is it important/why should businesses be focusing on it?Thankfully, workplaces are recognising the value of prioritising the wellbeing of staff, and as a result, are seeing happier, more engaged and productive staff who are less likely to need to take time off sick.
Employers who invest in the mental health of their employees will save money in the long run, Analysis by Deloitte suggests employers will see a return on investment of between £1.50 and £9 for every £1 invested into things like improving staff morale and wellbeing, as this has been shown to increase productivity.
Every employer has a moral duty to help close the disability employment gap, recognise the value of recruiting and retaining a diverse and talented workforce, including those whose mental health may have prevented them working previously.
Are there any easy things businesses can do to support their employees?Employers should strive to create mentally healthy workplaces for all their employees, whether they are experiencing a mental health problem or not. There are lots of small, inexpensive steps employers can take to support their staff. Even those that have a financial cost are more likely to save money in the long run as employers reap rewards associated with healthier, happier, more engaged and loyal employees.
It’s important to promote and advertise the initiatives you do have available, so staff are aware about what support they can access. Staff can experience stress or mental health problems regardless of their seniority or experience, so managers and senior staff who are responsible for looking after their employees must be able to access support too, particularly if they manage someone with a mental health problem.
Employers and employees can access the Mental Health at Work gateway. This online portal was developed by Mind, with the support of the Royal Foundation, and features plenty of information from a range of trusted sources.
And what can we do to support each other at work?Lots of people fear saying the wrong thing, and so say nothing at all. Even if you’re not sure, talk to the colleague you’re worried about, as staying silent is one of the worst things you can do. Try to adopt a sensitive, common-sense approach. The rules of thumb are:
- Encourage people to talk – start by talking about general wellbeing, and let people know that they can talk to you if they need to. Remember everyone’s experience of mental health problems is different, so focus on the person, not the problem.
- Avoid making assumptions – don’t try to guess what symptoms a co-worker might have and how these might affect their life or their ability to do their job – many people are able to manage their condition and perform their role to a high standard.
- Respect confidentiality – remember mental health information is confidential and sensitive. Don’t pass on information unnecessarily – not least because this breach of trust could negatively impact someone’s mental health.