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20 Sep 2023
by Christie Hedge

How to create a mental health strategy that prevents burnt out

Christie Hedge, Wellbeing Specialist at WTW, looks at how organisations can build an effective strategy to address poor employee mental health.

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An estimated one in four people will be affected by mental health issues during their lifetime and the impact on both employee wellbeing and the organisations they work for can be considerable.

The Health and Safety Executive has reported an increase of 100,000 UK cases of work-related stress, depression and anxiety since 2022, with 10% of suicides connected to work.

This costs the economy an estimated £56m a year.

Many companies understand they have a duty of care to their employees and embrace such initiatives as Mental Health Awareness Week. However, a greater commitment is required if poor mental health is to be properly addressed and improved.

Establish a starting point

Ascertaining the current level of mental health in the workplace is essential.

Insight can be gained by careful analysis of absenteeism rates, turnover rates, employee performance reviews, exit interview data, staff surveys, employee assistance programme use and private healthcare claims. This can indicate if and where there are problems, and interrogating the data to identify any patterns can help establish if any prevalent themes have emerged in employee take-up.

Build an effective strategy

Findings from collected data can be used to set priorities for a mental health strategy. Measurable and relevant goals can then be established, each with its own action plan.

Despite the strides made in breaking down stigmas surrounding mental health, they still remain. Organisations should consequently adopt a proactive approach to mental health and implement measures that encourage openness and discussion.

A strategy that positions prevention as its starting point is most likely to succeed. How current wellbeing benefits can feed into a mental health strategy should be examined, while ensuring employees know how to access and apply them.

Physical activity, good nutrition, skills development and social activities have all been found to improve individual and organisational mental wellbeing and resilience. Benefit provisions that support these should be built into the strategy.

Risks to good mental health include poor communication, a sense of being undervalued, unrealistic expectations and deadlines, a lack of flexibility and a pressurised working environment. Although not intentional, these practices can sometimes develop gradually and may not be apparent until the consequences are felt. To guard against this, regular reviews could be conducted.

EAPs and ERGs

Employees’ attention should be drawn to employee assistance programmes (EAPs) that provide counselling, and employee resource groups (ERGs) that enable employees to share their mental health experiences.

It can also be beneficial for employees and leaders to receive Mental Health First Aider training, which will enable them to identify potential risks factors and learn how to offer support.

By signing the Mental Health at Work Commitment, companies can demonstrate their dedication to the cause. This provides a framework to help organisations put key actions in place, while also signposting a range of practical tools.

Needs change

Mental health can be regarded as a continuum, ranging from positivity, wellness and resilience to distress and ill health. Recognising that everyone’s mental health changes can help us to look after our own wellbeing. It can also help us to be more understanding and supportive of others when they are experiencing poor mental health.

Employees should be made aware of resources, tools and benefits that assist good mental health and that address their needs.

Gains from training

Empathy and listening skills are key requirements for understanding and helping employees, and leadership may benefit from training sessions to help develop these.

Sharing their own experiences of mental health issues can set a positive example and may encourage others within an organisation to share. Such role modelling by leadership and management also helps remove taboos around mental health and fosters a better workplace culture.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has published a factsheet providing guidance on supporting employees’ mental health at work, including spotting early signs and training managers. It emphasises the importance of making helpful adjustments at work and offers guidance on providing specialist help.

Mind’s Supporting mental health at work: Guide for people managers, meanwhile, contains information, practical advice and templates to help managers facilitate conversations about stress and poor mental health. In addition, it sets out practical steps employers can take to create a mentally healthy workplace.

Monitor, measure, evaluate

Mental health strategies should not remain static. Instead, they should evolve to reflect the shifting needs of a workforce.

Regular reviews and monitoring should be conducted to ensure its continuing effectiveness.

Employee feedback is valuable for assessing whether the right emphasis is being given to the right area, and surveys can indicate if a strategy is having a positive and beneficial effect.

From a business perspective, monitoring and evaluation can reveal if a mental health strategy has had a positive impact on operational performance through reduced absenteeism and lower turnover.

Maximum effort, maximum results

A mental health strategy that becomes part of an organisations’ infrastructure invariably yields gains for employee wellbeing, and for productivity, motivation and engagement.

Workers who feel appreciated, heard, seen and supported are more likely to perform at their best and are less at risk of stress and burnout.

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In partnership with WTW

WTW is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company.

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