Why mental health needs to be on the HR agenda for 2020

Vicki Cockman is Workplace Lead at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England. Vicki provides expert guidance and training to support mental health in workplaces across the country.

As we leave another decade behind, many of us will reflect on our achievements and learnings from the past 10 years and think forward to the next chapter. Now is the time to evaluate where there’s room for improvement and set personal goals for the future.

Workplace wellbeing and the mental health of your staff should be a key pillar of your 2020 agenda. While mental health awareness has undoubtedly improved over the last decade, zero stigma has not yet been achieved in the majority of workplaces. In 2017, it was found that 300,000 people fall out of work each year due to mental illness. This has a significant financial impact on the UK economy costing the nation an estimated £34.9 billion each year, showing that it needs to be a top priority in every business.

An effective mental health strategy is at the heart of a sustainable and successful business. When employees feel they are encouraged to learn and grow in the workplace, they will be empowered to achieve their full potential.

Research by Indeed found that over 30% of UK workers think about a new job for the New Year and 97% of professionals believe that employers have a responsibility to support them with their mental health.  Those searching for a new role in the New Year are likely to have workplace wellbeing high on their list of priorities when job seeking. By implementing an effective mental health policy, your organisation can demonstrate its commitment to looking after the wellbeing of all employees and retain a high calibre workforce.

Good employee mental health is essential to building a successful and sustainable organisation and can have a range of benefits from staff retention and attracting the best talent, to improving engagement. Implementing a comprehensive mental health and wellbeing policy is the right thing to do for your people and for your business.

How can you implement an effective wellbeing strategy?

Creating a wellbeing strategy which centres on the whole person is fundamental to creating a mentally healthy workplace. Mental health should be considered equally alongside other aspects of health, such as physical and financial.

Taking a ‘whole organisation’ approach is the natural next step here. This concept is the north star that organisations leading the way in workplace wellbeing use as their organising framework.

A whole organisation approach is about building the right culture and ensuring a mental health and wellbeing strategy is properly implemented. Attitudes should filter down from leaders and be backed up with clear policies that are well communicated.

This approach means designing the stress out of processes and systems, putting healthy job design first, attending to reasonable adjustments, training, flexible working needs, fair and equal pay – and so much more.

If you’re only just starting out on this journey, the Thriving at Work report is a useful resource. It sets out six ‘core standards’ for employers to create a mentally healthier workplace.

Though these provide a useful steer, when developing your strategy, it’s also important to remember that there isn’t a one-size-fits all approach. Your approach will need to be reflective of the nature of your business and workforce.

Taking action

Creating an environment that encourages open conversation around mental health is another important part of a whole organisation approach. There are a number of useful guides that exist, such as the Workplace Wellbeing Toolkit, to support organisations taking their first steps. This toolkit gives guidance on raising awareness, sensitising an organisation to talking about mental health, as well as advice on embedding Mental Health First Aid England skills.

Giving staff these tools to support themselves and each other is key to empowering everyone to talk about mental health and seek help when needed. Simply knowing that a listening ear and a supportive conversation is close by can be so powerful in helping someone come forward to access support they may need to recover and stay well.

From addressing productivity and presenteeism to creating a culture of care, introducing or refreshing workplace wellbeing policy in line with a whole organisation approach can have huge benefits. Most adults spend at least a third of their time at work, which is why we should all start there to change how society deals with mental health now and in the future. As we take our first steps into 2020, now is the perfect time to reflect on your organisation’s approach to mental health and take action. By all doing so, we can create a society where everyone’s mental health matters.

For more information on further resources and training visit https://mhfaengland.org/