Actionable tips for supporting employee mental health and wellbeing in the workplace
As new ways of working are making the boundaries between life and work ever more blurred, family support, flexibility and a sense of equipping employees to ‘put on their own oxygen masks first’ are all fast becoming important aspects of employee mental health and wellbeing programmes.
A recent study found that organisations that help workers take care of their families are 5.1 times more likely to accomplish outstanding outcomes in areas such as financial performance, customer satisfaction or change ability.1
But with often siloed people departments, not to mention standalone benefits and wellbeing programmes, plus already stretched HR departments and scant budget, starting from scratch is probably not a luxury any organisation can afford. The great news is you probably don’t have to.
Here, we provide 3 top tips that don’t have to mean lots of investment.
1. Support line managers to be career and wellbeing advocates.
Incorporate wellbeing into your performance management approach, with conversations centred around the entire employee. Ask employees questions about their overall wellbeing, don’t just focus on work performance. Also, try to get to the stage where employees feel empowered to ‘request’ feedback, instead of always ‘giving’ feedback via formal means.
We know from Legal & General’s recent research that the reason many employees don’t connect their benefits to their wellbeing is because they are overwhelmed by the general corporate ‘noise’. In other words, they’re communicated in a one-size-fits-all way that fails to connect.2
However, employees should be speaking almost daily, if not more, with their line manager.
The line manager is often overlooked but needs to be considered a primary communication channel. This is where employers can help in really practical ways with communication skills training.
2. Encourage leaders to model healthy behaviours.
Organisations can have the best benefits and wellbeing programme in the world, but if leaders don’t lead by example, it’s a waste of time and money.
These can be really simple things like leaders not sending or replying to emails outside of work hours; making it clear to people that they take lunch away from their desk, encouraging walking meetings and not stockpiling annual leave. It’s simply about getting the message across that people don’t need to be online and working all the time.
Leaders speaking openly about their own mental health issues can also help greatly in removing workplace stigma. We’ve seen examples of this over recent years where captains of industry have spoken out about their own problems; and received recognition for doing so. This has the knock-on effect of not only encouraging others to seek help and support when needed, but also positively impacting corporate reputation.
Of course, leaders shouldn’t feel they have to have a mental health issue to achieve the same results! Simply being open and ‘human’ in the way they communicate with people brings benefits; as was evidenced during the height of the pandemic last year when leaders took on the role of chief communicators, helping to create a new sense of belonging for many.
3. Don’t just put a sicking plaster over mental health issues.
It’s generally a given that the bigger the organisation, the more siloed and specialist the people departments become. Think HR, Reward & Benefits, Learning & Development, Occupational Health (OH), Health & Safety. This can massively hinder progress when it comes to tackling two of the biggest issues in the workplace today; namely anxiety and stress, in their many guises – whether work-related, home-related, pandemic-related or a mixture of all.
Why? Because, for example, employers are required by law to assess and eliminate, where possible, the risk of stress related ill health arising from work activities.3
Consequently, OH or Health & Safety will carry out stress risk assessments. That’s generally a given. What’s not a given, however, is that the data is being shared with HR, not in a way that allows them to intervene with relevant services from their benefits armoury – such as, through working in partnership with their insurer, embedded value services via group income protection. HR may also use such information to inform line managers – perhaps where an excessive workload is the problem – and to inform any necessary changes to HR policy and practice as well as helping identify any line manager or employee training needs.
Instead, it’s left to employees to seek out the help they need. That’s fine where employees feel suitably equipped – informed and inspired – to do so. But it’s generally the case the help available isn’t being used and valued. Why? Because, as mentioned earlier, these valuable benefits and services have become lost in the corporate noise. Also, Legal & General’s research found that where employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are concerned, there are privacy concerns; people are worried their employer may get to know too much about them and their health.2
All of these problems could be overcome via improved collaboration across departments and third-party suppliers. And also via a focus on people-centred communication; with channels and messages targeted to audience, instead of mass messaging to all, to help equip people to make informed decisions about their wellbeing needs.
1Josh Bersin Academy, The Big Reset Playbook: Returning to the workplace, Nov 2020 https://joshbersin.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Big-Reset-Playbook_Returning-to-the-Workplace_Josh-Bersin_2020.pdf https://joshbersin.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Big-Reset-Playbook_Returning-to-the-Workplace_Josh-Bersin_2020.pdf
2 Legal & General commissioned Opinium to carry out research, involving 1,087 UK employees who have access to either IP, CIC or EAP, Dec 2020
3 Legislation.gov.uk, The management of health and safety at work regulations 1999 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1999/3242/contents/made