From education to employment

How to ensure your mental wellbeing policy genuinely works for your employees

Naomi Thompson, Head of Organisational Development at Benenden Health, discusses the best ways to effectively implement a mental wellbeing policy in the workplace, ahead of ‘Time to Talk Day’ (4 February).

If you asked employees what makes them stay in a job and what attracts them to a new opportunity, you could be forgiven for thinking that the usual answers of a good salary, free breakfast and a new laptop would top the list. However, it has been found that one of the principal reasons employees are attracted to jobs is the provision of a strong mental wellbeing policy.

With work negatively impacting on the mental wellbeing of more than half of all employees, recent research from Benenden Health found that as many as 42% of businesses have seen an employee leave the business due to their wellbeing not being supported well enough by their employer.

Given that 57% of employees state that a supportive mental wellbeing policy would increase their likelihood of joining a business and 54% of employees indicated that a lack of support for mental wellbeing would lead to them seeking alternative employment – ensuring you have an appropriate and effective policy in place is vital to recruiting and retaining the best talent whilst keeping productivity levels high within the business.

So how can employers ensure that their employees not only have mental wellbeing support, but that it is built to be most effective for them?

Introduce a mental wellbeing strategy that works for your business

The measures you choose to implement should be seen as the building blocks of your mental wellbeing strategy; but the glue that holds these blocks together is you, your management team and the tone you set – as any initiative you do is futile if the relationship between managers and their team is poor with little or no trust. Every strategic decision made on this score needs to consider the culture of the organisation and any micro cultures that some managers could be fostering.

If mental wellbeing days are discussed in this process, your team needs to know that it’s OK to tell you they are taking sick leave because of their mental health, rather than physical health. How you deliver this message needs to be consistent and repeated.

Ensure your policy is personalised

It’s also important to tailor your policy to meet the needs of your employees. A personalised approach to building your strategy will need to be adopted to tend to the needs of employees’ different life circumstances. For example, ensure that the right support is available for all different age groups within your organisation – younger employees may value support and advice around their finances, whereas older workers may find measures that alleviate loneliness a real benefit to them.

The most successful wellbeing programmes are those that recognise the workforce is ever-changing and diverse. Failure to do this can negatively impact engagement and productivity.

Don’t forget about recognition

Your strategy shouldn’t solely focus on the things you need in place to help if and when your employees are having problems with mental wellbeing. Thinking about what you can do to positively encourage mental wellbeing in a proactive way pays dividends, too. In fact, it can be the support that makes the difference between happiness and unhappiness.

Wholeheartedly encouraging shout-outs between colleagues and from managers to their team members makes a lot of difference. Recent research tells us that 80% of employees feel happiest at work if they feel appreciated. You may choose to formalise your thank-yous into a monthly rewards and recognition scheme, or the roll-out could look a lot simpler: how about a Monday motivation thank you in your weekly planning huddle?

Delivering change for the better

To deliver an effective mental wellbeing policy, the change that must be made is attitudinal. It would appear that many employees have invested time and infrastructure into a variety of measures designed to promote better mental wellbeing. Our research revealed that UK businesses are already thinking about how to foster positive mental wellbeing in the workplace, with a number already having actions in place:

  • 42% offer help and support from management
  • 41% regularly review workload to ensure it’s manageable
  • 32% changed the working environment such as lighting, equipment
  • 31% offer free counselling
  • 28% have mental wellbeing days in place
  • 24% lay on exercise and activity classes
  • 24% have a confidential helpline; and
  • 21% have Mental Health First Aiders

Even with programmes in place, without clear communication, even the best intentions can fail. Ensure employees are encouraged to use any wellbeing programme to benefit their needs.

Encourage a conversation about mental wellbeing

Putting structures in place to remind you and everyone to communicate is a great way to prompt positive change. This could take shape by committing to a monthly internal roundup or newsletter, so that you have the space and time to signpost that support that is on offer for everyone within the team or by asking team members to block out an hour of their time each month to work on their own wellness plan.

Why not use Time to Talk Day as an opportunity to engage with your employees about what wellbeing programmes would benefit them? Working together, we can help eradicate the stigma that comes with talking about mental health and make the workplace a positive environment for all.

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