A ‘whole organisation’ approach is needed to tackle mental wellbeing at work in a lasting way

At a time when we are seeing some of the poorest personal wellbeing scores for life satisfaction and anxiety (as reported by the Office for National Statistics), we continue to ask a huge amount from workers as they deal with job security, increased working hours, isolation, and other work-related stressors. Many are also trying to balance a disrupted family life with these challenging workplace demands.

A ‘whole organisation’ approach is needed to tackle mental wellbeing at work in a lasting way

When Deloitte publishes data that shows that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion a year, we must acknowledge this number doesn’t just represent a financial cost – it’s about people’s lives. Therefore, we urge employers to invest in the health of their organisations by prioritising the mental health of their most valuable asset, their people.

Many employers recognise that developing mentally healthy workplaces is a necessity. However, organisations that are starting to address the issue need to take a ‘whole organisation’ approach and understand there is no silver bullet.

To date, a common approach has been to focus on supporting staff at point of need, when things go wrong, rather than addressing the cause or primary factors. Tertiary interventions that focus on treatment, rehabilitation and recovery play an important role as part of an overall approach to mental health and wellbeing but arguably have often been over-relied on. Building positive cultures where it is ‘okay to not be okay’ is important, but isn’t it more effective to ensure that workplaces aren’t contributing to the problem in the first place?

To create workplaces that better protect mental wellbeing, organisations must focus on primary interventions such as job design, stress risk assessments, and buy-in from senior leadership in developing meaningful culture change.

They must also ensure they are reviewing data that provides insight into how their people feel about their mental wellbeing and work. This creates a much stronger foundation for employers to work from. When combined with good communication around their mental health strategy, it sends a clear signal to staff the organisation is serious about creating a mentally healthy workplace.

The next step is to invest in secondary interventions, promoting mental wellbeing by upskilling staff. This could take the form of general mental health awareness training – how to spot the signs of poor mental health and how to self-manage mental wellbeing, for example. It should also include training for line managers in recognising their roles and responsibilities in employee mental health and wellbeing, or on how to manage stress in their teams.

Regardless of size, organisations that take this primary, secondary and tertiary intervention approach have seen huge benefits including increased engagement and retention rates, improvements in absence/ presenteeism, and staff feeling that managers care about their wellbeing.

There is still a long way to go to tackle the stigma that surrounds mental health. Using a whole organisation approach based on informed data, rather than single interventions, can help leaders drive lasting and meaningful change.

The author is James Rudoni, managing director at Mates in Mind.

This article is also featured in our Employee Wellbeing Research 2021. Download your copy of the report.

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