Organisations are increasingly recognising mental health as an essential component of promoting employee health and welfare.
There is a growing trend to place as much importance on addressing mental health as physical health in the workplace. Typically, mental health is delivered as part of a holistic and integrated health and wellbeing strategy. Initiatives are built on prevention, early recognition, support and rehabilitation.
The key elements of organisational strategies to protect, promote, and address mental health in the workplace are presented below. These are based on the analysis of the five featured case-studies from the Bank of England, Bell Canada, BT, BHP Billiton, and King & Wood Mallesons.
Common Themes in Workplace Strategies to Protect, Promote, and Address Mental Health are:
- Public commitment to indicate support of mental health issues by signing pledges such as Time to Change in UK
- Support and participation in National Campaigns and linking these to internal workplace campaigns to promote mental health awareness and address stigma
- Training such as Managing Mental Health training, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training and resilience training. MHFA provides knowledge and skills to recognise and manage mental health issues. Resilience training typically develops skills to help people to take responsibility for their own wellbeing, and help identify personal stressors and build resilience. A novel approach to enforce uptake is to auto-assign training with timeline alerts
- Developing a range of tools such Health and Wellbeing Passport and the Stress Risk Assessment and Management Tool
- Psychological Rehabilitation and case-management services to provide support to remain at work while dealing with mental health issues
- 'Wellbeing Champions'/'Wellbeing Officers' who are staff trained to support prevention and early identification of mental illness, and to help create an environment that encourages people to speak up and seek help
- Range of resources available to all employees to help build mental health literacy, identify local community resources and to combat stigma. The intranet is a useful portal for housing this information
- Counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) services
- Employee Management Program (EAP) and Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
- Flexible-working and Swap-pay-for-leave Policies
Workplace strategies to protect, promote, and address mental health are commonly delivered by building internal and external partnerships. The successful delivery of any mental health initiative relies on collaboration. Stakeholders play an important role in creating a culture around mental health.
It is important to engage staff at all levels throughout the entire organisation. Internally, this includes:
- Human Resources (HR) staff are integral to the development and deployment of mental health initiatives. Allowances for dedicated resources and training of HR staff should be made so they are best placed to help others
- Mental Health Steering Committees/ Joint Committees/ Cross-functional Working Groups/ Networks etc. ensure representation across the organisation and promote the design and implementation of a cohesive mental health programme
- Senior Leadership buy-in to support the implementation of the strategy
- Managers and other employees play a key role in the development stage of the mental health programme. Consultations can help to identify which services or tools are most beneficial
- Managers are a target audience for training to be better at managing stress and mental health in their teams. They are well placed to lead-by-example and apply best-practices to promote mental health. Training can help to raise awareness and reduce stigma, recognise mental health issues, and being able to have a conversation around mental health and provide appropriate support
- Staff at all levels can be trained as 'Wellbeing Champions' or 'Wellbeing Officers' to help with prevention and early identification of mental illness; and to create an environment that encourages people to speak up and seek help
- Communications Team to effectively disseminate information. Health promotion is a broad topic and there is a danger of communicating bland general messages unless a clear focus is maintained. Effective communication aids awareness of initiatives and lends to the uptake of available services. Responsibilities include developing the mental health promotion strategy, managing intranet content, tailoring emails and other channels of communication to reach the target audience. It is important to clearly address the question of ‘what’s in it for me?’ in all communications and wording on email invitations is critical to gaining attention
- Build overall team member accountability to respect policies, codes of conduct, and active participation in workplace initiatives such as campaigns, training, etc. fosters a respectful workplace
External partners include:
- Mental health experts (e.g. mental health charities), vendors and people living with mental health issues can support the development of mental health initiatives and educate the workforce. This includes specialised providers for delivering mental health training and psychological rehabilitation services. It is essential to carefully select who to work with as the cheapest may not be the most effective. It is recommended to shop around for the most appropriate EAP for the profession
- Insurance carriers such as those involved in managing short-term disability claims can help to remove the risk of cost volatility and short term budgetary pressures. This approach can also improve visibility of costs and provide economies of scale, strengthening the business case for rehabilitation
- Community, family and friends play an important role in providing social support which is found to be a protective factor for mental health. National campaigns serve to address mental health at the population-level
- Industry-wide partnerships can serve to realise change across an entire sector. For example, with a high prevalence of mental health experienced in the legal field, a joint-initiative led by five major Australian law firms and the College of Law developed "resilience@law". The initiative aimed to raise awareness around mental health and stress; address stigma; and provide education, self-care strategies, support and resources. The College of Law now provides a mental health module in its practical legal training for lawyers at the threshold of their career
Monitoring and Effectiveness
- Mental health is monitored through a range of sources both qualitative and quantitative. This includes staff surveys, sickness absence data, and usage of support services such as EAPs
- Workplace strategies to protect, promote, and address mental health have reported a range of positive outcomes both for employee welfare as well as financial return for organisations. For example, decrease in sickness absence, increase EAP usage, decrease in short-term disability claims, and successful rehabilitation getting people back to work