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5 tips for building effective employee mental health programs

The pandemic has shown us how vital good mental health is in every aspect of our lives but especially at work. The best way to ensure a mentally healthy workplace is to build a mental health program into your organisation. 

But do you really need one, and how can you make sure it’s effective? 

Read on to find out 5 practical tips to help you to build an effective mental health program for your employees.

Do I really need to build an effective mental health program for my employees?

Providing for the physical health and wellbeing of employees is accepted as part of an employer’s responsibility. The law requires that people work in safe surroundings. And many companies’ benefits packages include free eye tests and gym memberships, for example. An attractive benefits package can also be an incentive to job applicants.

But the pandemic has challenged everybody’s mental health on a scale never seen before. In November 2020, Mind reported the highest number ever of people experiencing a mental health crisis. In addition, working from home has increased stress, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress symptoms and burnout. And the effects of this will be around for a long time to come for some employees.

In 2020 the CIPD surveyed the health and wellbeing at work of 668 organisations, referring to 2.7 million employees. Over two-fifths (42%) of respondents to the survey expressed their extreme concern about the pandemic’s impact on their employees’ mental health.  

Supporting employees with poor mental health and promoting good mental health throughout the workplace is clearly vital.

So what are organisations doing to build an effective employee mental health program?

The 2020 CIPD survey showed that more organisations are taking action to support their employee’s mental health. So what are they doing to create an effective mental health program?

Organisations in the survey are doing a range of things as part of their mental health and wellbeing programs, including:

  • Conducting staff surveys and focus groups on identifying causes.
  • Offering flexible working conditions to support a better work-life balance.
  • Conducting risk assessments and stress audits to highlight contributing factors.
  • Offering training – to employees, e.g. to build resilience; and to line managers.
  • Involving occupational health specialists.
  • Adapting job roles.
  • Providing employee support programs.
  • Providing access to counselling services.

Some of these are longer-term interventions and have more cost implications than others. However,  they all have in common a people-centred approach, where the employees’ needs are recognised and prioritised.

So what are the top five tips for building effective mental health programs?

Put mental health at the top of the agenda in your organisation.

Leaders have to show that they take the mental health of their employees seriously. If there isn’t a mental health policy in your organisation, you should create one – with input from employees! And make your mental health strategy central to every decision that is made.

Mental health has to be at the heart of everything the company does. It can’t be considered an optional add-on because the link between company success and employee mental health is evident. 

You can read about creating a workplace mental health policy on our blog here.

Focus on training line managers to support employees with their mental health.

Line managers are uniquely placed to identify mental health risks and to support employee wellbeing. But they must be trained to do this effectively. 

They often face conflicting demands to meet targets while also managing people and supporting wellbeing. Organisations need to ensure that managers are equipped with the skills and support to handle this balance effectively.

The training should enable them to:

  • have sensitive conversations about mental health with more confidence;
  • identify and address issues early;
  • support employee wellbeing, both remotely and in the workplace; and
  • adapt their management style to be more approachable.

Create an open and tolerant culture regarding mental health in your workplace.

Staff need to feel that they can talk freely about their mental health. The highest-ranking people in the organisation who have experienced mental ill health should be encouraged to talk about it. This is how to remove the stigma surrounding the topic of mental illness and create a safe and supportive atmosphere.

Raise awareness of mental health throughout your organisation.

You can arrange training workshops where outside experts come into your workplace. Or you could appoint ‘mental health champions’ or ‘mental health first aiders’ who receive training in how to talk to colleagues about their mental health. 

Ideally, managers will not fulfil these roles to ensure that employees feel able to talk openly. This can be vital in the early detection of issues before they become too serious – especially for remote workers.

Offer a more flexible way of working to all your employees.

This could be remote working or hybrid working. It also extends to offering and managing a phased return to work after an employee has had a period of absence because of mental ill health. 

What if I need some help to build an effective employee mental health program in my workplace?

Putting these ideas into practice might seem a little daunting. And especially if your organisation hasn’t had to face many issues around employee mental health problems before. Depending on your sector and the size of your company, it might be a considerable undertaking. There is a wide range of resources on all aspects of mental health at work on our website, and you can read them here.

However, the most critical step is to do all you can to adopt a positive attitude towards employee mental health. If you can do that, the rest will follow – especially with our help.

How can SupportRoom help my company?

Here, at SupportRoom, we offer employee therapy for small to medium businesses. Our platform allows employees to receive therapy on-demand from a  dedicated, qualified therapist.

Our SME Employee Support platform is designed to give insightful data that allows your employees to track their progress and monitor their own mental and physical health.

Book a free demo here.