How can employers foster a culture of openness around mental health?

Loneliness affects many of us at one time or another and we know that loneliness can be both the driver for and a product of poor mental health.

Loneliness affects many of us at one time or another and we know that loneliness can be both the driver for and a product of poor mental health.

Employers need to promote openness around mental health if they want healthier, happier, and more productive teams. While company culture is not something that can be transformed overnight, there are some effective changes that can be implemented now to help address this head-on. With time and commitment, companies can build a supportive culture of transparency around mental health.

Here are five simple things employers can do to foster a culture of openness around mental health andsupport employees to alleviate feelings of loneliness.

Implement a mental health policy

Wellbeing packages are becoming increasingly important for the modern workforce, with half of all employees in a recent survey saying a strong health and wellbeing focus would increase their likelihood to join or stay with a business. Generation Z employees (age 16-23) revealed they would even be willing to sacrifice a third of their salary to receive a healthcare package that fits their personal needs.

Despite these learnings, it was revealed eight out of ten SMEs don’t have a policy in place. This is an obvious and crucial first step which sends a signal to your employees that their mental wellbeing is important to you. Your policy should be widely circulated and promoted to demonstrate that you are committed to removing the stigma surrounding mental health.

Maintain honest and open communication about the business

Maintaining regular and honest communication with employees about business operations can be crucial in reducing anxieties and keeping workforces involved and engaged. With many businesses still working remotely for at least part of the week, it is important to keep the full workforce involved in communications where possible to ensure they still feel part of the team.

Provide access to a 24/7 confidential helpline

Though it’s important employers provide an open forum for discussion and support within the business, this can be bolstered by introducing a dedicated mental health support line for those who may not feel comfortable discussing mental health issues with their manager or HR.

Adopting this kind of service while teams are working from home could be very beneficial to employees who may be suffering in silence at a time when it’s difficult for employers to spot red flags.

Ensure a good work-life balance

Employees need time away from work to switch off and recharge; if they don’t, they’ll be at risk of a burnout and poor mental health. Businesses need to continuously emphasise the importance of work-life balance, with these lines in some cases blurred due to the rise in remote or home working.

Some of the ways you could start promoting a better work-life balance for employees include emphasising that they are not obliged to reply to emails outside of office hours, encouraging flexible working hours – particularly for those with caring duties – and reminding employees to take time away from their desks, as well as ensuring they use their holiday entitlement.

It is worth noting that this behaviour must be encouraged from the top down. If managers are taking company calls while on a holiday or only ever eating lunch at their desks, it sets unhealthy expectations and employees will feel compelled to follow suit.

Introduce mental health training

Understandably, supporting mental health within the workplace may be a new concept for many managers and, without training, they may not know how to spot the signs of poor mental health or feel confident and equipped to address it. Businesses can empower line managers to help their teams by providing them with training which could cover the different models of mental health – medical and biological or psychological and social – as well as the diagnosis and treatment of mental health illnesses from the causes, signs and symptoms.

Developing basic listening skills can also be key in building rapport, promoting trust and encouraging openness with employees in need of support and to make sure individuals do not feel like they are being left alone to struggle.

Whilst businesses are already facing exceptional challenges, these simple steps can keep teams healthy, happy and productive and – by implementing these now – employers can put themselves and their teams in a strong position going forward.