Supporting Mental Health and Well-being in the Workplace

This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual campaign run by the Mental Health Foundation with the intention of raising awareness and breaking the stigma surrounding mental health.


Mental health needs to be a key priority for any organisation looking to outperform its competitors, and the importance of fostering good mental health and well-being in the workplace cannot be overlooked. An increasing number of studies are showing a clear link between supporting employee mental health and improving employee engagement, which in turn leads to increased productivity and retention, and ultimately better financial performance.

So as an employer, what can you do to create a workplace that promotes and supports mental health and well-being?

Get your basics right

Good mental health and well-being in the workplace starts with the culture of the business, how staff are managed and how they interact with colleagues.

Day to day, the biggest impact on the well-being of an individual employee will be their manager and team. As such, no health and wellbeing initiative will ever overcome a toxic workplace culture and it is vital that managers are aware of the causes of stress within the workplace, and the steps they can take to alleviate these. An individual’s daily working environment needs to foster good mental health, for example:

  • Workloads and deadlines are realistic, and staff have the tools they need to succeed.
  • Targets are well communicated, and people work together towards a common goal.
  • Everyone is spoken to with respect and treated equally.
  • People are provided with regular and constructive feedback on their performance.
  • Contributions are recognised and rewarded.
  • Staff are empowered as much as possible to make decisions over their own work.
  • Managers are able to control their own emotions in the workplace and don’t pass on their stress to others.

Ensuring your managers are well-trained in all aspects of people management and are measured on how well they manage others, will pay huge dividends in creating this base level of support. A great place for managers to start in assessing their own competency is the HSE’s line competency indicator tool.

Promote openness and honesty

One of the biggest barriers to overcoming mental illness is the stigma people still associate with it. And so to combat this, organisations need to ensure they create an environment where staff are not afraid to openly discuss their mental health and that individuals can talk about their struggles before they get to a crisis point. Just being able to say to colleagues “I’m having a tough day today”, rather than having to put on a brave face, and know that their team will support them, can help to stop an issue from spiralling.

Alongside this, it is important to encourage authenticity in your organisation; if staff feel that they can be themselves and not hide any part of who they are, be that their cultural background, sexual orientation, family circumstances, etc, they will naturally feel more connected to their colleagues and will feel safer in sharing how they feel.

To help create this environment, you can look at providing resources and training on mental health awareness and overcoming unconscious bias to your employees. You can also build conversations around mental into your performance development process, and encourage managers to be asking their teams about their mental health in 1-2-1 meetings.

Set an Example

Your senior staff need to lead from the front and be an advocate for what your organisation is promoting. Leaders can and should speak openly about their own mental health and be actively showing to staff that they take steps to prioritise their own well-being. If a manager never takes a full lunch break, or consistently works excessively long hours, or never takes annual leave, they are subconsciously setting the expectation that their teams need to do the same.

It is therefore important that you are proactively looking after the mental health of your leaders, ensuring that they themselves are able to flag when they are struggling and will be supported.

Create and Communicate your Mental Health Policy

Creating a mental health policy will have a positive effect on the culture of your company, by formalising your approach to mental health and demonstrating the importance you place on it.

A well-structured mental health policy will set out your approach and give guidance to both managers and staff on what steps they can take if they are struggling at any time. For example, a policy can set out the type of work workplace adjustments that can be considered to support someone who is suffering from a mental health issue, such as adjusting their working hours, or location of work. Alongside your policy, you can also provide further written guidance on managing mental health, such as template Wellness Action Plans, and manager toolkits.

Of course, it is not enough to just write a policy and hope that makes a difference, you need to ensure all staff are aware of its content, so communication is key. It is also important to regularly review the policies and programmes that your company offers its employees. Listen to your staff and adapt to ensure that you continuously improve in line with their needs.

Offer Support & Resources

Additional resources and programmes can be a valuable tool in helping staff manage their mental health. There are a wealth of providers out in the market, and you would need to look at what works best for your workforce and budget, but some key ones to consider would be as follows.

An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) offers staff confidential support and advice on a wide range of issues and usually includes access to trained counsellors. You may even find that these are included free of charge as part of another benefit you offer, for example, your life assurance plan may include bereavement counselling.

Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) are individuals trained in recognising and supporting individuals who are struggling with their mental health. This can be both when someone has reached a crisis point, and so needs help in getting urgent support, or it might be providing early intervention for someone who has started to develop a mental health issue. Having MHFAs within your organisation provides an easy route for your staff to talk about their mental health, as they know there is a specific person who will understand what they are going through and can give them practical tips on how to get help. In addition, MHFAs act as advocates for good mental health within your organisation and will be the key people to get the conversation going about what your organisation can do differently to support staff.

You can keep it simple and cost-effective, by just organising regular events that encourage staff to prioritise their wellbeing and take a break from their desks. For example, you could organise a group walk at lunchtime, or have a coffee morning where people meet up and chat about their day. Social interaction has naturally declined in a lot of organisations following the Covid pandemic and the increase in hybrid working, so providing opportunities for staff to meet up in person helps to build these links back up.

Finally, there are a wide variety of external charities and organisations, such as the Mental Health Foundation, MIND and Samaritans, that are available to help people manage their mental health. Simply promoting these organisations to your staff can set them on a journey towards improving their mental health.

At The Wilkes Partnership, we have worked hard on developing our mental health and well-being within the firm. We have: trained 11 employees as Mental Health First Aiders who offer support and aid for colleagues in the firm; have taken the Solihull Zero Suicide Pledge and provided training to all staff on suicide awareness; provided training to managers within the firm on supporting staff with their mental health and wellbeing; created a mental health policy that is available for all staff; and organise regular yoga and wellness walks across our offices.

As a firm, the feedback received from staff has been positive with many feeling more supported and that they are able to discuss when they are struggling with their mental health as the subject is now less taboo. They appreciate that efforts have been made to improve the mental health of staff and recognise that culturally, the firm will support them.

The firm is proud to support this year’s Mental Health Week and will be taking part in the ‘Wear it Green Day’ on Thursday 18th May as well as organising social events in each office, giving our team the opportunity to get together and have a break.

As the world’s attitude towards mental health is progressing in a positive manner, as an employer you do not want to be left behind. Supporting mental health and well-being and adopting a positive culture towards it will not only help to break the stigma but will create a working environment where employees are happier, more engaged and reach their full potential.

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