Workplace Mental Health: Don’t See it to Believe It

Ian Wade

Let’s quickly set the scene.

1.86 million people were in contact with mental health services at the end of November 2023.  In 2022/23, 17.1 million working days were lost due to stress, depression or anxiety (48% of the total days lost).

You don’t need to equate that into lost revenue to know that mental health is a big challenge for companies. 

Working conditions and environment can have a huge impact on mental health, and, equally, someone’s mental health can significantly affect performing well in – or even doing – their job.

We’re seeing greater recognition of this among corporates from both FTSE-listed businesses to SMEs – mental health has become a core part of their employee benefits and wellness programmes. 

But mental health is complex because people’s lives are too – what employers can see or know about isn’t always the full truth. Often situations are still being dealt with reactively. Why not try to prevent them in the first place?  

Take it from the top

The culture of a company is set at the top and for mental fitness to be part of the day-to-day working environment, executives and L&D leaders have to foster an open dialogue across their teams.

How though?

1. Leaders and managers at all levels must recognise that their roles have changed. Staying connected in an inclusive way needs conscious thought and generous listening.

2. Stimulate conversation – start with less controversial subjects like sleep and then gradually extend to explore long working hours, loneliness, ‘living at work’, the menopause, toxic masculinity, stress and anxiety.

3. Of course, this will only work if vulnerability isn’t judged as a weakness and trust is strong. The best leaders are the ones who show a level of vulnerability, not hide it. 

4. Experiment – Try different approaches to find what works for your business. Some mistakes will be made as part of this and built in as learning from experience.

Mental Health Hot Topics

We cover a vast number of topics across our training courses, but here are two that always get the room buzzing.  

1. ‘Working From Home’ –

 Employees’ experiences of prolonged working from home is highly varied. Whilst some report an improvement in their work/life balance, others struggle to separate their professional and personal lives. This can lead to ‘living at work’, extending working hours, leading to burnout and sleep deprivation. At its worst, this can extend to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Our mental fitness programmes help employers to explore ways to create mentally healthy hybrid and remote working workplaces. These programmes can be tailored to the make-up of your workforce, but each begins with the importance of a full understanding of hybrid and remote working. Which tasks do employees believe can be best done in an office? Which can they do at home?

Manage expectations to help give them control.

2. Insomnia –

The most common mental health issues in the workplace are anxiety, depression and stress. All 3 contribute to and worsen insomnia. 

It would be naïve to think that we will sail through our careers without – at the very least – any work-related stress, so our workshops look at practical ways to prevent and manage insomnia.

We’ll share advice like: 

–         When trying to sleep, don’t try to push those persistent thoughts away. Acknowledge them, explore them and accept them. Then move on.

–         Remember that even with the lightest sleep your body and mind will have benefitted from our natural restorative processes.

–         Keep to a routine sleep schedule as far as possible.

–         Create the right environment for rest in a cool, dark and quiet sleeping space.

Take time to learn about the basics of sleep and techniques that will help you beat insomnia and live your life to the fullest.

Stay ahead of the curve

If you’re not tackling the complex issue of mental health in your workplace, now is a great time to start. If you already have a ‘programme’ in place, bear in mind that, across both public and private sectors, we’re seeing mental wellbeing fatigue. Employees tell us that initiatives which landed well in the pandemic now feel stale and need rejuvenation. They want their employers to get back on the front foot.

So, as top employers, be ready to break new ground. Consider whether your employees need additional tools, such as the need to personalise our approach to surviving and thriving and mindfulness practices to help with better focus, sleep, productivity, pain management and anxiety. We need to challenge our approach to resilience as the term is now so overused that it is in danger of losing discernible meaning.


Stats:

  1. Mental Health Team, NHS England https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-services-monthly-statistics/performance-november-2023/author-copyright-licensing-v5 2024

2. HSE, England https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/dayslost.htm November 2023

Ian Wade

I have over 25 years of experience designing and delivering training in leadership, policy, communications, equality, diversity, inclusion, mental health, and resilience across public, private, and charity sectors. I've facilitated Civil Service Learning workshops and designed materials for digital, virtual, and face-to-face platforms. I hold two professional qualifications in training and development. My work includes projects with the Home Office, MoD, and Better Health at Work, focusing on organizational engagement, innovation, and supporting vulnerable populations.

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