3 ways to improve mental wellbeing in the workplace

One simple fact which any employer will attest to is that poor health reduces productivity in the workplace. Implemented well, UK health and safety regulations do much to protect us from work-related illness and injury. However, while our nation’s businesses are generally very good at protecting the physical health of their employees, the protection of mental health can be more difficult.

The problem often stems from the need for a significant change in workplace culture, which can be difficult to initiate and maintain, or from line managers lacking the correct training and confidence to tackle mental health issues in their teams. Mental wellbeing at work is a problem which needs addressing. With one in four people in the UK experiencing a mental health issue1 at some point in their lives, putting the correct measures in place could help employers increase productivity by as much as 12%. The 2017 Thriving at Work2 report tells us that around 300,000 people with long term mental health problems lose their jobs every year and that the cost to employers of poor mental health is £33-42 billion; due to absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover.

Despite this, only 6% of organisations have a standalone mental health policy3. Mental health within the construction sector has received particular attention recently. Suicide is now the leading cause of death for men aged between 15 and 49, with a 2017 ONS study finding that the risk of suicide among low-skilled male labourers, particularly those working in construction roles, was three times higher than the male national average. Organisations such as Mates in Mind are seeking to address that, but there’s more that employers can do to recognise and support mental health issues for their workers.

Going beyond your legal duty

 Whether work is causing the problem, or making it worse, employers have a legal obligation to monitor risk and put protective measures in place against mental health issues, just as they do for physical health issues. They also have legal obligations to make reasonable adjustments when employing people with pre-existing mental health problems, as they do for any type of disability. More information on this can be found at While legislation and regulation can go some way towards lessening the impact of mental health on employees and their workplaces, those who go further to nurture an open and inclusive culture will reap the rewards of a more motivated and productive workforce. Here are three things employers can do to improve mental health in their workplace:

  1. Make a plan and share it

The first step to improving health and safety practice in any area is good communication. Clear plans, shared with the whole team, make sure that everyone is on the same page and set the standard for what is expected; from individuals and from the team as a whole. Creating and communicating a plan sends a message to your workforce that you take mental health seriously. The plan may include steps to consult employees on issues affecting their wellbeing. It may lay out ways of working with mental health specialists to assess risks and resolve problems. Employers may also want to consider whether there are any digital or offline tools which might help them measure and improve workplace wellbeing.

  1. Provide the opportunity to talk

In any workplace, people are the most valuable resource. Unfortunately, many skilled workers are not reaching their full potential because they are hiding ongoing problems with their mental wellbeing. In busy, hardworking environments and particularly on site, it can be difficult to provide team members with the opportunity to talk – but doing so could prevent them from needing to take time off and may also help to keep them more engaged with their daily workload. How exactly you create the opportunity will depend on your individual circumstances; what is practical in one environment would not suit another. If line managers are the first point of contact for anyone suffering with mental health issues, they should be properly trained to provide appropriate help or advice. The most important thing is to make employees aware that help is available if they need it – and that starting a conversation about mental health will not adversely impact their opportunities or progression at work. Training for all employees on the basics of noticing if someone is struggling and how to help can also be useful and can begin to foster a more open attitude to mental health across the workforce.

  1. Make sure workers have a sense of purpose

A strong sense of purpose amongst employees creates a win-win situation in the workplace. Workers who are clear on what they should achieve and how to do so, thanks to good training and effective leadership, are not only more productive but also happier5. This improved sense of wellbeing will in turn mean fewer absences, better talent retention and higher performance. Employers can foster a sense of purpose in many different ways; these include provision of training/personal development programmes, mentoring opportunities, and consistent methods for measuring and feeding back on achievement.

For younger generations entering the workplace, a sense of purpose is especially important. Employers should let them know how their work contributes to the business’ success and set ambitious but achievable targets, incentivising these where appropriate.

Core standards for thriving workplaces

Each workplace is unique and will need to take a tailored approach to mental health management. The ‘mental health core standards’ laid out by the Thriving at Work report provides a comprehensive best practice guide for employers who want to raise standards of mental health protection in their workplace. It is available at:





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Blog Health and Safety, Mental Health, SMEs
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