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Mental health in the workplace

The role of employers in promoting mental wellbeing among their employees has always been crucial but has perhaps become even more so during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This past year has been an exceptionally difficult for all of us and, while there has been an obvious focus on people’s physical health, this pandemic has put an enormous strain on mental health too.

“I would really encourage employers to take advantage of the resources available to help improve the wellbeing of staff. A healthier, happier workforce is a more productive workforce too.

“I want everybody to know that it’s okay to be not okay. You are not alone. There is support out there and I hope that by raising awareness more people feel comfortable coming forward and getting the support they need.”

Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor, Liverpool City Region

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on mental health and wellbeing, both from the direct impacts of the virus and the unintended consequences of measures taken to control it, including isolation, school closures and widespread job losses.

The virus will not disappear, and some degree of social restriction will be with us to some extent for the foreseeable future. It is very likely that rates of poor mental health will continue to increase, particularly in the Liverpool City Region where, even before the pandemic, we had some of the poorest mental health outcomes in the country and high numbers of socially and economically vulnerable residents.

The role of employers in promoting mental wellbeing among their employees has always been crucial but has perhaps become even more so during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ensuring good mental health at work is good for both employees and employers, boosting job satisfaction, retention and productivity.

This brief guide summarises what ‘good work’ means and how businesses can promote good mental health and wellbeing among their employees during COVID-19 and beyond

Access to good work continues to be one of the most important factors for achieving good mental health and wellbeing. The 2017 Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices recognised that the quality of people’s work is a major factor in helping people to stay healthy and happy, and outlined seven characteristics of high-quality work. Wherever possible employers should ensure that employees have:

  • input into decisions that affect how, when and what work is accomplished
  • reasonable work demands and working hours
  • clear role descriptions
  • opportunities to use their skills
    variety in tasks
  • support from co-workers and a positive relationship with line manager
  • job security

In the same year, the Thriving at Work review focused set out six “mental health core standards” that all employers can readily implement to better support employees to remain in and thrive through work. All employers should:

  • produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
  • develop mental health awareness among employees
    encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
  • provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development
  • promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors
  • routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing

Meeting the standards above should not be daunting and there are several useful, straightforward frameworks to help any organisation to do so.

The Mental Health at Work Commitment is a simple framework that builds on good practice and includes six standards for how organisations can better support employees’ mental health:

  1. Prioritise mental health in the workplace by developing and delivering a systematic programme of activity
  2. Proactively ensure work design and organisational culture drive positive mental health outcomes
  3. Promote an open culture around mental health
  4. Increase organisational confidence and capability
  5. Provide mental health tools and support
  6. Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting.

Mind’s Mental Health at Work Commitments guide for employers during coronavirus builds on this general framework to provide practical examples of what employers can do to support staff and respond to the current coronavirus pandemic.

St John Ambulance’s concise mental health and wellbeing checklist helps employers track the progress their organisation has made to ensure that employees have the correct support and policies to maintain good mental health.

The above resources recognise that the most effective way to prevent mental ill health in employees is to ensure that working conditions are conducive to good mental wellbeing. However, it is also important to acknowledge, understand and support those who do develop a mental health condition and mental health training can help in this regard.

Mental Health First Aid is a training program that teaches people how to help someone developing a mental health problem, experiencing a worsening of an existing mental health problem or in a mental health crisis. Like traditional first aid, Mental Health First Aid does not teach people to treat or diagnose mental health or conditions but rather how to offer initial support until appropriate professional help is received or until the crisis resolves.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England is a social enterprise and the largest provider of Mental Health First Aid training in the UK and Europe. They provide a range of paid-for courses for organisations, from basic mental health awareness sessions to a full Mental Health First Aider qualification, in person and online. Discounted courses are available through the Growth Platform’s Skills Brokerage Service. Alternatively, the Zero Suicide Alliance provides several free on-line training modules.