` How employers can make systematic change around mental health at work - one step at a time | Reward and Employee Benefits Association (REBA)
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10 May 2022
by Nicola Hemmings

How employers can make systematic change around mental health at work - one step at a time

Transforming employee mental health could be the best benefit ever

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Organisations everywhere are coming to terms with an alarming truth: there is no business health or organisational resilience without employee wellbeing. When mental health and wellbeing are not protected and prioritised in the workplace, individuals, companies and industry as a whole suffer – and there is ample research to support this.

In 2021, the estimated cost of mental health-related sickness absence was £53bn-56bn a year, while mental health-related turnover rose 150% to over £22bn. With two out of three adults reporting worsened mental health since the first national lockdown and more than half (52%) of employees saying they don’t feel supported, the stakes are higher than ever.

Committing to change and first steps

To transform mental health at work, organisations need to commit and take action. Many have publicly committed to the cause by signing the Mental Health at Work Commitment. However, a commitment is only as good as the action taken to back it up. And when it comes to mental health in the workplace, focus, action and committed resources are required. Large-scale, systematic change is the only sustainable path to get organisations to where they need to be.

But organisation-wide transformation requires careful consideration, significant planning and consistent action. Obstacles and objections (among them employee reluctance to openly seek care and ever-present resource constraints) need to be defined and addressed.

So how can employers begin to approach this challenge to create an organisational culture that better supports mental health?

Start small (and go fast) to gain momentum

While it may sound counterintuitive, with large projects, taking a ‘quick win’ approach helps build momentum, energy and excitement about the project. Instead of spending weeks or months creating a detailed master plan, select a first small step that fits within your budget, resources and time restraints to test and learn from.

This could be encouraging a weekly check-in between line managers and employees about their wellbeing. In meetings, share as a group – something achieved, something learned and something they’re grateful for. Set up peer-support groups for managers to mentor and learn from each others’ challenges or roll out an easy-to-access mental health resource or tool. Ideally, your first step should be manageable, impactful and provide quick insights into potential future roll-out challenges.

Track results and gather feedback

Build in systems to track results and gather feedback as soon as you begin the change process. With this data, you’ll be able to evaluate progress (comparing before and after), and see what’s working (or not) and, perhaps most crucially, decide where to allocate further resources.

To ensure you’re receiving honest and ample feedback, you will want to give your workforce plenty of opportunities to share their opinions. Encourage it and make it easy to communicate in a variety of ways, such as anonymous forms, surveys, or even a channel on your company’s internal messaging system. If your first step involves a digital mental wellbeing solution, you’ll also have access to anonymised data from the provider about take-up and how your employees are using it.

Incorporate inclusion and equity

As you work towards your plan for large-scale change around mental health in your workplace, it’s essential to consider the key themes you wish to address from a diversity, equity and inclusion perspective. Ensuring people across your organisation have visibility and a voice in the changes to be made will help ensure your ‘big picture’ is as complete and inclusive as possible and acknowledges the intersectionality of mental health.

Remember that no one solution will address your entire workforce. Mental health ranges across a continuum and each individual’s needs will vary depending on their personal circumstances at any given moment. Flexibility and accessibility are crucial pieces of ensuring inclusion.

Evaluate, iterate and repeat as needed

After rolling out your initial ‘quick fix,’ evaluate your results. What’s working well, and what isnt? What would make the initiative more successful? What key themes have emerged? What resonated (or did not) with your workforce? What are the potential future challenges and how can these be overcome?

Use the learnings from your initial effort to decide your next step. After each action (with evaluations and iterations), you should have more information to help you to continue elaborating your long-term plan.

Want to find out more about why (and how) to build organisational wellbeing at your workplace? Download our free e-book on Building organisational resilience: The business case for employee wellbeing.

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In partnership with Koa Health

At Koa Health, we believe digital mental health solutions are the answer to mental health issues.

Contact us today

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