Rewards & BenefitsHealth and WellbeingMental Health Awareness Week 2019The progression of workplace mental health

The progression of workplace mental health

As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close, we look at how far this cause has come, and what organisations can do to further improve their employees' mental health.

This week provides a huge opportunity for organisations to review their current strategies and further look at ways to improve their employee mental health. Since their introductory of mental health awareness week in 2001, there has been a number of topics within mental health raised, such as stress, relationships, loneliness, altruism, sleep, alcohol, and friendship. Each aspect is just as important to address as the other, and as this cause has grown there’s been a positive shift into ensuring that this is a top priority for HR and business professionals.


Addressing mental health in the workplace is crucial, not only for an employees wellbeing but also for the overall success of a business. “People who have recovered from a mental illness are an asset to your company – they have resourcefulness, resilience, natural empathy and insights into people dynamics that most of us don’t have.” said John Flint, Group Chief Executive, HSBC.

Mary Lawrence, health and safety practice lead, Osborne Clarke believes that it is in an organisation’s best interest to prioritise the wellbeing of employees in order to reduce absenteeism, improve productivity and create a more positive working environment.

“It is in the interest of every organisation to ensure that the mental wellbeing of every employee is properly addressed, and Mental Health Awareness Week acts as a timely reminder to do just that. Of course, wellbeing in the workplace has been a hot topic for some time but until now the focus has been geared more towards safety than mental health issues. In the same way as businesses approach the physical safety of employees, it is important to look at the mental health risks being faced by workers. Just last year The Mental Health Foundation revealed that two-thirds of people in the UK will experience a mental health problem within their lifetime.” Mary says.

Addressing mental health is crucial for many businesses, due to Mental Health Awareness week and many other organisations raising awareness for this cause, it is clear what effect mental health can have on an individual and a workforce. Pat Ashworth, a Mental Health at Work Expert highlighted some key moves that companies can do to help employees and employers alike speak up about their health and wellbeing. 

“The government published the ‘Thriving at Work’ report to outline their recommendations for employers on addressing mental health. This provided a set of core management standards as a framework to adopt best practice. Therefore whilst more forward-thinking employers will engage with this guidance as best practice to maximise employee engagement, others will not and only make the changes if required to do so by law – as a consequence this can leave many employees without the real prospect of maximising their talent and potential in the workplace.” Pat said, commenting on if the government are doing enough to aid this cause. So it is apparent that although the government intend to aid this cause through a number of resources, there’s still work that needs to be done to further improve this.

“Unhappy workers result in unproductive workers, and stressed employees are more likely to be absent from work. What’s more, businesses could not only face legal claims from employees but also find themselves being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive if it is believed that a company isn’t ensuring the ‘health’ as well as the ‘safety’ of an employee. In order to comply with the legal obligations in this area, firms should first identify what the health risks in the business are by talking to employees, carrying out surveys, and involving occupational health experts. Then, they must look at how these risks can be reduced and prepare a document which sets out the risks, the consequences and puts in place a plan of what action the business can take to reduce the risks. Finally, it is vital that businesses act on that plan and update it as required.” Mary Lawrence concludes.

Employee feedback is crucial to further fulfill this challenge, as if their workforce feel open enough to speak out about their issues, this could create a positive relationship with their managers.

The relationship between employees and employers is a key part of business performance and once this milestone is accomplished, this could aid companies in receiving legitimate and constructive feedback from their employees. “Emotional connection is the most effective form of feedback employees can engage with because it leads to a true and accurate reflection of the feelings of staff and what is important to them and delivers real and relevant insights. Feelings are the basic core needs of individuals relating to their physiological, safety and belonging, which, in turn, are linked to their happiness, wellbeing and opportunity to grow and flourish.” said Andy Dean, Director, Truthsayers.

There are many steps that organisations can take in order to improve mental health for their business, and not one size fits all. However above all, communication, transparency, and building relationships is key to moving this cause forward.

Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 will take place from Monday 13 to Sunday 19 May 2019. The theme for this year is Body image, and how we think and feel about our bodies.

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