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7 bite-size boosters for better mental health at work

Even in 2020, we can still be reluctant to admit we’re struggling with our mental health to family, employers or colleagues. This may because of the stigma that can still surround it, or from a fear of seeming weak or unable to do our jobs.

However, embracing mental health and giving employees the support and tools they may need has arguably never been greater, and one that’s set to continue in the post-coronavirus world. 

The CIPD found that over a third (37%) of businesses saw an increase in stress-related absence over the last year, while almost two-thirds (60%) reported common mental health conditions like work-related stress had increased1.

The National Federation of Self Employed and Small Businesses (FSB) suggest that 1-in 6 UK workers experience anxiety, depression and unmanageable stress each year2.

While the CIPD recognised more employers are taking mental health seriously and doing more to raise awareness about it, they flagged that levels of mental distress and stress are still too high in a number of organisations.

But, says the FSB, the UK’s “5.8 million small businesses can, and do, play a powerful role in improving the lives of their employees through a variety of actions,” and added that employers are introducing new and different initiatives to help workplace wellbeing3.

So how can small (and larger) businesses boost mental wellbeing – especially when so many of us are working from home with extra pressures and responsibilities?

Here are 7 bite-size boosters to help mental wellbeing at work.

1. Educate employees and managers about mental health

A number of organisations offer health and wellbeing support to businesses aimed at helping managers recognise the signs and symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression, or helping employees build resilience. These may include workshops on stress or mental health that can be delivered in your workplace, or online if your people are working remotely or from home. Some examples of suppliers include Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), Mind or Mental Health Resource. While some courses are chargeable, you may well see a return on your investment through healthier employees, but if your budget won’t run to a workshop, there are also free e-learning courses out there too.

2. Check out your Employee Assistance Programme

 Some benefit providers may offer an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) built-in to one or more of their products. What comes with the EAP can vary depending on the provider or the product, but just one example is confidential 24/7 support and advice on a range of common work or life issues, such as childcare or elder care, finances, relationships or domestic legal problems. These services are usually available at no extra cost. If you don’t have access to an EAP, some benefits also come with discounts that can be used to reduce the cost of mental wellbeing services, for example, or check out the EAP Association for more information.

3. Mental health support

Mental ill-health is recognised as a major cause of both short-term and long-term sickness absence4. As well as workshops, there is online and external expertise you can tap into to help people who may be struggling. As well as helplines suggested by Time to Change,  sites like the NHS’ Every Mind Matters provides free access to mental health toolkits, plus hints and tips, while the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) offers manager resources.

4. Promote a work/life balance

 Work frequently eats into our leisure time, especially when modern technology can easily link us with colleagues any time of the day. When as many of us work from home, it can be even harder to switch off and remember to take the breaks we would if we were in the workplace. Encourage your employees to take time away from their desks, to take exercise, take the holidays they’re entitled to, and stop working at a reasonable hour. And lead by example. Don’t send people emails at 10pm and expect an answer.

5. Think about financial wellbeing

Financial wellbeing still isn’t seen as a priority by most employers5, but it can have a direct impact on people’s mental health. In 2019, over a fifth of organisations (22%) believed poor financial wellbeing was a significant cause of employee stress6. For an overview of how employees can help manage their finances, a number of external organisations offer help. For ongoing support with expenses, a perks or discounts savings benefit (some of which come a part of the package with other employee benefits) can not only recognise and help to ease financial stress, but may also come with the added benefit of providing wellbeing content and mental health support.

6. Don’t forget physical health 

Mental health can go hand-in-hand with physical wellbeing. Regular exercise, eating healthy and just taking part in leisure activities can all have a positive effect on our mental wellbeing. Most small businesses may not have the facilities for sessions, or the budget to offer incentives like a gym membership. But encouraging people to remember their physical health or signposting them to local classes such as yoga, pilates or personal trainers, or even introducing step challenges can all help. And with the government continuing to promote the physical and mental wellbeing benefits of cycling, you may like to consider introducing a cycle-to-work scheme as an employee benefit. Make overall wellbeing one of your business goals. 

7. Create an open, supportive culture

Encourage people to talk about mental health, and create the culture for an open and honest conversation, regardless of seniority. Having a senior member of your business talk about any mental health issues they may have had can reassure people that it’s ok to speak out. Make it absolutely clear that any mental health concerns will be recognised and that your employee will not be stigmatised or penalised. Let them know that you actively encourage them to seek treatment and take time off for appointments. And be mindful of any steps you can take in the workplace to help, such as reducing their workload. A mental health policy can also set out for both employee and employer exactly how the company approaches and tackles mental health issues.

By tackling the issues face on, businesses can reduce any lingering stigma still surrounding mental ill-health. And by encouraging and supporting employees whenever needed, organisations benefit from more productive, healthier, happier employees, who are likely to appreciate working for a company who cares.

[1] CIPD Health and wellbeing report 2020



[4] CIPD Health and wellbeing report 2020

[5] CIPD Health and wellbeing report 2020

[6] CIPD Health and wellbeing report 2019

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