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02 Feb 2023
by Dr Anna Mandeville

Time to Talk Day: What talking about mental health in the workplace really looks like

Every year, Time to Talk Day marks an opportunity for people (and employers) across the UK to re-open their conversations about mental health.

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Employers are doing their best to support employees’ mental health. However, according to recent research by Deloitte, over half (52%) of UK employees said they didn’t feel supported. This is despite the fact that more than three-quarters of UK employers said their employees were utilising company-provided mental health services and benefits more than they were at the start of 2022, according to our survey of 500 business leaders in the UK and US. 

While the reasons for this increase in employee use of mental health services and benefits can be attributed to a range of factors, the cost-of-living crisis and recovery from the global pandemic are significant. Simultaneously, employers’ prioritisation of employee mental health is at an all-time high, with almost all (95%) of the employers we surveyed planning to implement managerial support for mental health in the workplace over the course of 2023. 

These are all positive indicators and bode well for long-term worker quality of life and organisational outcomes, such as talent retention and mitigating burnout. However, they don’t explain why most employees still don’t feel supported. But a failure to incorporate open mental health talk might.

The need for open cultures

Although having inclusive, easily accessible mental health resources in place is crucial, if the workplace isn’t a safe space for people to speak about any struggles and seek out support when needed, they’re likely to go unused. 

But what does talking about mental health in the workplace look like, and how can managers broker these difficult conversations? When looking at peer and clinician-backed research, several strategies rise to the surface. 

First, poor mental wellbeing as a topic, as well as personal care practices, requires that organisational leaders and supervisors challenge themselves to be open and authentic.

Leaders need to walk the talk

Research shows that employees know when their leaders walk the talk. If leaders and decision-makers do not actually embrace an organisational culture of mental wellbeing, their direct reports will not only observe this but hesitate to show vulnerability in kind. Managers can promote open and honest talk about mental wellbeing by leading with their own stories and breaking the silence by speaking first. When leaders share times when they have struggled or sought care, they’re clearly communicating to their teams and departments that everyone has permission to do the same without shame or stigma.  

Be proactive

Second, proactive conversations about mental wellbeing should be attached to accessible next steps or actions. Picture this scenario: a weekly team meeting is happening. The department supervisor executes a mental wellbeing conversation beautifully — they talk about a time they felt anxious, perhaps during the start of the pandemic or when going through a momentous life change. As a result, members of the team share times when bringing their best to work was difficult, or their overall quality of life suffered. This is the perfect opportunity for leadership to establish these challenges happen to everyone, provide concrete, accessible, and affordable solutions, and focus on ongoing mental wellbeing maintenance. 

Even when morale is high, organisations must ensure that barriers to entry to mental wellbeing services are low. Discreet, digitally-enabled solutions such as telehealth, digital wellbeing and app-based mental healthcare offer comfortable alternatives to in-person support solutions. 

Make mental health conversations part of the company culture

Third, mental wellbeing conversations are not one-and-done or once a year but must become a recurring part of company culture. Culture is like air. It may be invisible to the eye, but we’re constantly breathing it in. Yet its effects can be seen and felt by all. Cultural changes come not from top-down mandates and a single forced conversation, but through habits and routines that eventually impact both the hearts and minds of those within the larger group. 

In the case of an organisation, talking about mental wellbeing means creating a space where these conversations can continue organically and where the workplace becomes fully onboard and empathetic to the holistic health of their colleagues. Actions that stem from a place of care and consideration, when repeated regularly, eliminate the need for mandates and create a culture of quality of life. This aligns with our research on 2023 UK mental wellbeing UK employer trends, which shows that improving worker quality of life is the number one reason employers invest in mental wellbeing in the first place. 

As one might expect, there is no magic pill for happy and healthy co-workers. When it comes to improving employee mental health, and really any goal, progress is a result of continued effort, intentional behaviour, and putting the right benefits in place to help employees seize those tools that will enable them to live their best lives and bring their best selves to work. 

Want to learn more about what 2023 holds for mental health in the workplace and what you can do to improve access for your workforce? Download our 2023 Mental Wellbeing Trends and Analysis.

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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.

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