Mental Well-being at Work

Posted in : HR Updates on 18 October 2017
Dave Woods
Think People Consulting

Just about getting by or purposefully getting somewhere… which of these two options best describes how the employees in your organisation feel on a daily, weekly or monthly basis? Do you have the necessary information to answer? If so, how confident are you in that answer?

The 10th October marked World Mental Health Day, a timely reminder that the mental health and well-being of employees should be high on the agenda for all organisations, from global brands to smaller owner-managed businesses. Given that we spend so much time at work, about one-third of our conscious experience, it’s no surprise that the working environment and culture therein, strongly affects our well-being, physical and mental.  Problems arising from poor mental health are one of the main reasons employees underperform, adversely impacting on productivity and engagement. As an indication of the potential scale of these adverse impacts, the Health at Work: Economic Evidence Report (2016) detailed that the financial cost of mental ill health to British business is an estimated £26bn per year.

Previous research also shows that FTSE 100 companies who prioritise employee engagement and well-being outperform the rest of the of the FTSE 100 by 10% (BITC Workwell FTSE 100 Findings, 2013). However, recent survey findings detailed within the Mental Health and Work Report (2017) highlight that much work remains to be done to achieve positive changes in mental well-being in the workplace:

  • Three out every five employees (60%) have experienced a mental health problem due to work or where work was a contributing factor in the past year;
  • Only 13% of those surveyed felt able to disclose a mental health issue to their line manager; and
  • Of those employees who disclosed a mental health issue, 15% were subject to disciplinary procedures, demotion or dismissal.

These results are cause for concern when you consider that, just as with physical conditions, employers have a duty of care to manage and respond to mental health needs. However, beyond fulfilling a duty of care, adopting a proactive approach to the promotion of mental well-being makes good business sense. Not only will it be of personal benefit to your employees, but dedicated improvement efforts will also drive increased commitment, job satisfaction, retention, productivity and performance. With such a strong case for investing in employee’ mental well-being, why might businesses not be doing so? In many cases, the answer is not an unwillingness to take appropriate action, but rather a gap in knowledge.

So, what are the key factors that will impact your employees mental well-being and what are the practical steps that can be taken?

Three key factors consistently linked to improved mental well-being across multiple organisational settings, including factory shop floors, charities and investment banks, are:

1) employee relationships with others, experiencing a feeling of reciprocal care, respect and mutual reliance;

2) their perceived competence, being able to succeed in their tasks and achieving set goals; and

3) perceived autonomy, experiencing some degree of choice or control within their work environment.

Greater satisfaction of each of these three ‘basic psychological needs’ will not only contribute to improved mental well-being, but is also critical for motivation in the workplace. Therefore, taking time out to consider how your policies and practices might increase or decrease the satisfaction of these needs is time well spent, for example:

  • Does your current performance management process align with these needs? Does it drive open, respectful and positive relationships between managers and their staff?
  • Do you involve your employees in decision-making processes where possible? Are they aware of the business strategies dependant on their performance and the positive contributions they make?
  • Do you provide training and development programmes to improve employees’ skills and increase their competence?

The importance of identifying proactive measures to enhance mental well-being in the workplace was reflected in an unprecedented business alliance in 2016.  Business in the Community, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the Institute of Leadership and Management, along with several leading mental health charities, worked collaboratively to provide advice and guidance. Three key areas where practical steps can be made are organisational culture, line manager support and engaging with and responding to employees.

Organisational culture

It is probably not surprising that within organisations, just as in society more generally, there has traditionally been a reluctance to openly discuss mental health concerns for fear of stigmatisation. A positive first step is to create a culture of openness around mental health within your organisation. Send out a strong signal from the top that “it’s okay not to be okay”. An example of this can be seen in Barclays, where they encouraged staff with mental health issues to come forward and talk about their experiences on the organisation’s intranet. Poppy Jaman, CEO of Mental Health First Aid, explained to Forbes:

“This has normalised the conversation and demonstrated that employees at all levels are being supported. It also demonstrates that you can have mental health issues and have a fulfilling career and be a valued member of the organisation.”

In another example, PwC appointed mental health advocates, senior leaders in the firm who talk openly about their experiences of mental health, in efforts to support de-stigmatisation. Posters around the office, dedicated polices in induction handbooks, or inviting a speaker in to raise the profile, are also simple and affordable ways to encourage a culture of openness.

Line manager support

Although 91% of managers agreed that what they do as a manager affects the well-being of their staff, the 2017 BITC survey revealed that less than a quarter (24%) of managers had actually received any training in mental health literacy. This lack of training can, therefore, act as a barrier to managers feeling equipped to proactively support their staff should they notice signs of mental ill-being. Symptoms such as stress, anxiety and depression, which represent the most common experienced due to work.

Staff are also more likely to approach their managers if they have had training in mental health literacy and believe their employer promotes a culture of openness and support for mental well-being. The Bank of England, for example, introduced a mental health training programme for line managers in conjunction with the charity Mind. As a result, more than 200 line managers have been educated in how to spot signs of mental ill-health and engage with colleagues.

Engaging with and responding to employees

Employee engagement and mental well-being are interdependent. When you invite staff to give their opinion in a purposeful way and act on their views, they feel involved and informed. These actions are linked to improved feelings of autonomy in the workplace, a key contributor to improved mental well-being. Practical steps such as dedicated well-being surveys or the inclusion of mental health and well-being within broader employee attitude surveys can provide a basis for engagement. These can then be complemented with focus groups, staff forums or mental health steering groups. Engaging and raising awareness, must, of course, be followed up with positive actions and supportive responses when individuals come forward with mental health concerns. Responses such as offering support with workload, redesigning a job or facilitating some time spent working from home can all have a positive impact, whilst boosting employee motivation and loyalty.

Returning to the question originally posed, are your employees just about getting by or purposefully getting somewhere? The evidence would suggest that employers need to do more to promote mental well-being, the good news is, it’s out in the open!


Dave's colleague, Angela Schettino from Think People Consulting, will be speaking at Legal-Island's Annual Review of Employment Law 2017 conferences in November. Angela's session is: An HR Guide to Handling Employees to 'Play the System'.

[SOLD OUT] Annual Review of Employment Law 2017 - 9th November at Culloden Hotel, Holywood
Annual Review of Employment Law 2017 - 21st November at Crowne Plaza Hotel, Shaw's Bridge, Belfast

This article is correct at 18/10/2017

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Dave Woods
Think People Consulting

The main content of this article was provided by Dave Woods. Contact telephone number is 028 9031 0450 or email

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