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Mental health in the workplace: 6 HR professionals and business leaders share their approach

All employers have a duty of care which means they must do all they reasonably can to safeguard their employees’ health, wellbeing and safety when they are at work.

This includes routine health and safety measures in the workplace but also includes safeguarding employee mental health.

Research by leading mental health charity, Mind, found that at least 1 in 6 employees experience mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. Given that work is often one of the biggest causes of stress in our lives, many HR professionals are now prioritising improving and supporting employee mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

To find out how companies across the nation approach mental health in the workplace, we reached out to the HR community. In this article, we chat with 6 HR leaders, experts and consultants from companies including Hunter Roberts, Cosy Direct and Champion Health.

For any mental health and wellbeing strategy to have an impact, it must form part of the foundation of your business’ entire culture. Dr Dee Gray is the Director of Grays Wellbeing, a provider of wellbeing programmes, coaching and consultancy, she shared just how crucial your culture is to the success of any health and wellbeing strategy: “The most effective strategy is one in which wellbeing is the bedrock of workplace culture, this takes on a holistic form so that mental, physical and emotional wellbeing is supported through interconnected mechanisms.”

Grays Wellbeing quote

As COVID continues to take its toll on our mental and, sadly for some, their physical health; many employers have made swift and impactful changes to their mental health and wellbeing strategies. Susy Roberts is the Founder of People Development Consultancy, Hunter Roberts, and she shares just how important it is for employers to recognise how fluid this situation still is and the stress it has placed on the workforce.

“There has to be a huge change in the way employers react to practical and emotional problems. We need practical help and support and talking therapies in the workplace, not just frameworks and platitudes. It has to be real; it has to be a massive cultural shift. You can bring in the best professionals to develop the most progressive personal development plans, but if the workplace culture doesn’t allow for the actions then they’re useless.

“Organisations have to genuinely recognise the stress that people are under, the practical pressures they’re dealing with constantly, and make allowances for them.”

Importantly, business leaders and HR professionals should ensure that employees have access to, and know where to find, the services you provide as a company, as well as signposting where to find other external, professional services when required.

For employers, consider training your managers, department heads and wider teams on mental health. Being able to recognise the signs of poor mental health and knowing how to broach the subject of mental health with an employee can help employers to better manage any mental health issues they are experiencing.

Harry Bliss is the CEO and Co-Founder of Champion Health and shares his advice for employers: “Make use of resources that can educate you on how to help employees experiencing different mental health issues.

“There is also training available (like this online health training course from Champion Health), but remember, as an employer, there is only so much you can do. It is essential that your employees can rely on their support network for help as well. Encourage them to fill out a wellbeing support grid, which will give them a feel for the strength of their support network.”

And yet, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to mental health in the workplace. Every working environment is different and HR leaders must design mental health strategies that respond to employees’ needs. Emma Robinson is the Founder and director of Red Diamond Executive Headhunters, a global agency based in West Yorkshire, and shares how her business has responded to social distancing and continued periods of lockdown: “Working remotely might give us more flexibility but it does mean we miss out on the social aspect of being a team. We’re a close-knit bunch and miss things like going out for drinks or a meal after work – even a chat by the water cooler.”

Red Diamond Executive Headhunters quote

“Instead, we’ve been plunged back into the situation where we’re juggling work, home life and a myriad of other challenges, not least taking time to look up from the laptop and take regular breaks.

“I decided to set aside 90 minutes every Wednesday to concentrate on our wellbeing, with a mix of exercise and mindfulness sessions, talking through subjects such as affirmation, self-belief and the effects of stress. We didn’t have a huge budget but it’s certainly been worth it – we’ve learned more about each other and what really makes us tick, both as colleagues and as human beings.”

Employees across the nation have had to adapt to being apart from their peers and companies have devised new ways to maintain social bonds and support mental health and physical wellbeing during these periods of prolonged isolation and distancing. Vibrant Accountancy have taken to weekly yoga sessions and monthly challenges. Their co-founder, Bev Wakefield is also a director and champion of children’s mental wellbeing not-for-profit organisation, Bridge the Gap. She explains: “Our most recent challenge was to walk a marathon on our lunch-break (collectively – there are six team members) in a month.”

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is nature, promoting the positive impact that nature can have on our mental health. Getting out into nature is crucial for our mental health and overall wellbeing, and something that many of us are huge advocates of.

Ethical suppliers of sustainable nursery and educational equipment, Cosy Direct recently relocated their warehouse into the rolling hills of the Derbyshire countryside and have taken it upon themselves to introduce small, but wholesome initiatives that help employees to connect with nature, get outside into more green space and feel at one with the outside world. Their CEO, Peter Ellse shares just some of the things they are doing to boost employees’ moods and lift spirits during these testing times: “After moving into the Derbyshire countryside to a bigger warehouse with more green space, we now have an onsite bee hive, veggie plot and chickens. There is free fruit for staff, regular wellbeing checks and all are encouraged to make use of the on-site Forest School. We also recently employed a retired teacher, Jan, to serve staff tea in China tea cups and homemade cake at 3pm every Friday.”

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