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12 blogs of Christmas: Mental health and the workplace

12 blogs of Christmas: Mental health and the workplace

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One in four people experience a mental health problem each year.  Work and personal challenges can impact mental health in difference ways.  In a work context, there can be a broad range of causes that can trigger mental health difficulties.  These can include unmanageable workloads, long hours, negative relationships, poor communication and a sense of isolation due to lone working. Outside work, there can be triggers such as social isolation and loneliness, bereavement, long-term health conditions and drug or alcohol misuse.   HSF reported that between 2020 and 2021, 822,000 people suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety.  This rose to 914,000 in 2021 / 2022.[1]

Beyond more routine work challenges, the way we live and work has also changed significantly over the past few years. Lockdowns and the readjustment back to post-pandemic work meant that we have had to go through several major readjustments in our day-to-day lives. At the same time, many people faced personal impacts and struggles due to COVID-19. With more people encountering mental health challenges that have impacted their work lives, there are steps that employers can take to create a culture of openness and support their staff:

  • Take stock: discuss wellbeing at team meetings, and the factors which affect mental health. This will help to normalise conversation around mental health, and encourage staff to be more aware of their and their colleagues’ mental health, as well as feeling more comfortable to raise concerns.
  • Build a supportive culture: develop a clear mental health strategy and policy, and be available for your staff. Employers can create mental health awareness training and workshops or appoint health ‘champions,’ such as mental health first aiders, who employees can speak to confidentially.
  • Define roles and expectations: having clear roles, responsibilities, and expectations can help individuals feel more motivated and engaged, as well as providing understanding on how their role fits into the bigger picture.
  • One-to-one support: managers are often best placed to notice changes in employees’ behaviours or mood, and regular one-to-ones can help maintain good working relationship and build trust. This can benefit the individual and the employer; when difficulties and changes are more likely to be recognised, and employees feel more comfortable alerting their managers to mental health challenges and / or difficulties with their role, support can be provided faster.
  • Support: encourage employees to seek support. This may mean through their GP, to explore awhat support is available from the NHS such as talking therapies. Employers can also proactively connect their employees with support available through Employee Assistance Programme, through which they can arrange counselling. Occupational health services can also be implemented, where support can be provided to both the employee and employer. This can address problems before they become worse, improving employee wellbeing and performance.

Everyone’s experience of mental health is different, and employers should be flexible in their approach when providing support. Providing early support can help reduce absences, boost productivity, retain talent and consolidate a positive culture where employees feel safe and secure. This will help employers tackle costs associated with sickness absence and low productivity. Group insurers are an especially valuable support, as many now offer early intervention services which can help employees before they become absent from work. When it comes to mental health, awareness and early intervention are crucial.


[1] https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf