How to proactively build a mentally healthy workforce

Ronni Zehavi, CEO at Hibob, explores the steps leaders can take to build mental resilience among their staff

In today’s fast-paced, work-driven society, building a mentally healthy workforce is more important than ever. Organisations across the public and private sector are becoming increasingly aware that encouraging proactivity around mental health will not only improve workplace culture but also productivity levels amongst employees.

This connection between mental health and productivity and engagement has been reinforced by a recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey. 52% of respondents reported an increase in employee morale and engagement following the implementation of health and well-being activity in their workplace, alongside 18% reporting an increase in productivity levels.

However, current data on workplace wellbeing remains disconcerting, with the same CIPD survey finding mental health to be among the top three causes of long term absence in the workplace. While its public sector breakdown uncovered that public sector organisations were doing better than their private counterparts when it comes to promoting health and wellbeing awareness, nearly two-fifths of public sector organisations still say they are more reactive than proactive on employee wellbeing issues.

What’s more, according to the Mental Health Foundation, 92% of people sometimes feel that they are under too much pressure at work, while 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

What these figures underline is that more needs to be done in relation to employee mental health and happiness. But while this awareness is the first step, taking action will make the real difference.

Leading by example

To break the mental health stigma and bring the issue to the centre of workplace consciousness, C-level execs need to advocate a change in perception. The C-Suite is required to lead by example and encourage a proactive approach towards positive mental health in the workplace.

Conversations around topics such as depression, anxiety and stress should fall into the same category as those around workplace safety. It’s crucial for HR and leadership teams to welcome openness and transparency into the workplace, which can be done by listening carefully to the voices of employees. The Mental Health Foundation lists active listening and acceptance as some of the key factors towards supporting and addressing mental health problems at work. By fostering an open culture, organisations can ensure a healthy and supportive working environment.

Organisational leaders should strive towards developing a positive company culture by promoting strong values. Importantly, acting on these values will develop a sense of community in the office. Likewise, introducing both company and personal goals within the organisation will promote a team culture. Even smaller, shorter targets will give employees something to work towards with a sense of purpose.

By creating testimonials from people in the office around their own personal mental health challenges, business leaders can also encourage people to learn from members of their own teams. Empathy and creating a sense of shared understanding is key.

Dedicating days to mental health

A Labour Force survey revealed that out of the 26.6 million working days lost in the UK last year due to work-related ill health, 15.4 million were due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety.

It’s clear that mental health should hold the same position in the workplace as physical wellbeing. Crucially, mental health should be included within company absence policies. In doing so, organisations reaffirm its importance to employees and encourage those who are experiencing poor mental health to ask for help.

Offering day-to-day support is also a small step that can make a big difference. Informally checking in with colleagues and offering this support will make is easier for people to reach out when they need to. If conversations around mental health become regular, the taboo around the subject will lessen and addressing mental wellbeing can become part of the daily office routine.

Recognising warning signs early

A crucial action for employers aiming to support their workforce is to look out for red-flags signalling poor mental health and wellbeing amongst employees. These can range from lateness and an increase in sick days to an unwillingness to socialise, changes in appearance and a decrease in quality of work and productivity. By spotting these signs early-on, employers will be able to offer pre-emptive and preventative care through solutions such as counselling, as well as help staff members to recognise and address the state of their own mental wellbeing.

Regular reporting should also play a vital part in recognising warning signs. Through monthly staff surveys and by encouraging employees to proactively self-report, companies can gather data surrounding their workforce and gain an oversight of the emotional wellbeing within the company. If collected successfully, organisations can use the data to analyse and accurately evaluate how the workforce is feeling. The data can therefore drive the approach taken towards people-related decisions, ensuring that all actions are fully supported by a deep understanding of the workforce.

Reducing problems with technology

Advances in technology mean that organisations are able to make these people-focused, data-driven decisions. HR systems now have the capability of recognising patterns in user behaviour, providing a valuable level of insight into the workforce.

In the past, available time and resources prevented companies from efficiently exploring and tackling emotional issues. However, the emergence of this new technology means that organisations can effectively clean valuable information from people data.

Taking proactive steps to help detect, understand and manage work-related mental health issues plays a major role in building a mentally healthy workforce. Not only can it help improve productivity, motivation and workplace culture, but, vitally, it can also improve an employee’s quality of life. All in all, happiness is essential for a successful workforce and understanding the people is key to achieving this goal.