Naomi Thompson, head of organisational development at Benenden Health, discusses the best ways to effectively implement a mental wellbeing policy in the workplace
If you asked employees what makes them stay in a job and what attracts them to a new opportunity, you could be forgiven for thinking that the usual answers of a good salary, free breakfast and a new laptop would top the list. However, it has been found that one of the principal reasons employees are attracted to jobs is the provision of a strong mental wellbeing policy.
With work negatively impacting on the mental wellbeing of more than half of all employees, recent research from Benenden Health found that as many as 42% of businesses have seen an employee leave the business due to their wellbeing not being supported well enough by their employer.
Given that 57% of employees state that a supportive mental wellbeing policy would increase their likelihood of joining a business and 54% of employees indicated that a lack of support for mental wellbeing would lead to them seeking alternative employment - ensuring there is an appropriate and effective policy in place is vital to recruiting and retaining the best talent whilst keeping productivity levels high within a business.
The most successful wellbeing programmes are those that recognise the workforce is ever-changing and diverse.
So how can employers ensure that their employees not only have mental wellbeing support, but that it is built to be most effective for them?
Introduce a mental wellbeing strategy that works for that business
The measures implemented should be seen as the building blocks of your mental wellbeing strategy; but the glue that holds these blocks together is the employer, the management team and the tone this sets - as any initiative is futile if the relationship between managers and their team is poor with little or no trust. Every strategic decision made on this score needs to consider the culture of the organisation and any micro cultures that some managers could be fostering.
If mental wellbeing days are discussed in this process, teams needs to know that it's OK to tell employers they are taking sick leave because of their mental health, rather than physical health. How this message is delivered needs to be consistent and repeated.
Ensure the policy is personalised
It's also important to tailor policies to meet the specific needs of employees. A personalised approach to building a strategy will need to be adopted to tend to the needs of employees' different life circumstances. For example, ensure that the right support is available for all different age groups within an organisation - younger employees may value support and advice around their finances, whereas older workers may find measures that alleviate loneliness a real benefit to them.
The most successful wellbeing programmes are those that recognise the workforce is ever-changing and diverse. Failure to do this can negatively impact engagement and productivity.
Don't forget about recognition
A strategy shouldn't solely focus on the things needed in place to help if and when employees are having problems with mental wellbeing. Thinking about what can be done to positively encourage mental wellbeing in a proactive way pays dividends, too. In fact, it can be the support that makes the difference between happiness and unhappiness.
Wholeheartedly encouraging shout-outs between colleagues and from managers to their team members makes a lot of difference. Recent research tells us that 80% of employees feel happiest at work if they feel appreciated. An employer may choose to formalise their thank-yous into a monthly rewards and recognition scheme, or the roll-out could look a lot simpler: how about a Monday motivation thank you in weekly planning huddles?
Delivering change for the better
To deliver an effective mental wellbeing policy, the change that must be made is attitudinal. It would appear that many employees have invested time and infrastructure into a variety of measures designed to promote better mental wellbeing. Our research revealed that UK businesses are already thinking about how to foster positive mental wellbeing in the workplace, with a number already having actions in place:
- 42% offer help and support from management
- 41% regularly review workload to ensure it's manageable
- 32% changed the working environment such as lighting, equipment
- 31% offer free counselling
- 28% have mental wellbeing days in place
- 24% lay on exercise and activity classes
- 24% have a confidential helpline; and
- 21% have Mental Health First Aiders
Even with programmes in place, without clear communication, even the best intentions can fail. Ensure employees are encouraged to use any wellbeing programme to benefit their needs.
Encourage a conversation about mental wellbeing
Putting structures in place to remind you and everyone to communicate is a great way to prompt positive change. This could take shape by committing to a monthly internal roundup or newsletter, which can create the space and time to signpost that support that is on offer for everyone within the team or by asking team members to block out an hour of their time each month to work on their own wellness plan.
Why not use Time to Talk Day as an opportunity to help engage with employers and employees about what wellbeing programmes would benefit them? Working together, we can help eradicate the stigma that comes with talking about mental health and make the workplace a positive environment for all.
Naomi Thomspon is head of organisationsal development at Benenden Health