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World Mental Health Day: Experts explain the growing importance of mental health in the post-pandemic workplace

World Mental Health Day: Experts explain the growing importance of mental health in the post-pandemic workplace

07 October 2022

With a number of challenges facing workers following the pandemic and current cost of living crisis, two experts from the University of Kent have addressed why workplace wellbeing is so important and the best-practices employers can implement to support staff.


Nicholas Clarke, Professor of Organisational Behaviour & HRM at Kent Business School, said: ‘The latest figures from the HSE indicate that 32.5 million working days were lost in 2019/20 as a result of work-related ill health with almost 18 million of these, mental health related. This data points to mental ill health and stress as now being among the top risk factors affecting well being at work.


‘Employers have a legal duty for the welfare of their employees, but a recent survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found almost half of respondent organisations had not developed staff well-being strategies. Most would agree that actions to improve mental health in the workplace is not only important for the well-being of employees but also improves business outcomes, productivity and results in cost savings for society more generally.  


‘Although many organisations have increased their range of initiatives to improve employee mental health, a major obstacle is that there is still much we need to do in furthering our understanding of the efficacy of interventions and developing a more holistic perspective on mental health and well-being. We need to change to a more preventative approach to reduce the likelihood of mental illness than has traditionally been the case.  This requires a “whole-systems” approach which recognises that aspects of the workplace, such as having control of one’s work, workloads, employee voice, feeling valued, recognition, career development and purposiveness also affect employee well-being and mental health.


‘Good leadership and line management are key not just to the implementation of well-being initiatives but are important factors affecting well-being in their own right. My own research has shown that even factors such as levels of mutual respect between line managers and their employees can have a significant effect on an employee’s psychological well being. Action to improve mental health in the workplace must start with ensuring line managers have the necessary skills to hold conversations about mental health and stress, and know where to direct their staff for further assistance. But more fundamentally in managers adopting a leadership style where psychological well-being can flourish.’ 


On what employers can do to support the mental wellbeing of staff in the workplace, Dr Dawn Nicholson, Senior Lecturer in Business & Organisational Psychology, adds:


Know What Your Employees Are Thinking and Feeling


Check- in with your employees frequently – take regular “pulse” surveys, analyse what they are telling you and look out for potential points of tension.


Create Open/Transparent and Safe Communication Forums


Organise regular drop-in meetings – both virtually and face-to-face – where employees and senior managers can come together informally, without any agenda, for an open exchange of information, thoughts and ideas. Use these to disseminate and share information: be as transparent as you can regarding changes to working practices or the organisation.


Put Mental Health at the Top of Your Agenda


Ensure that working policies clearly address mental health and discuss mental health challenges openly – make sure your employees know that “it is OK to not be OK”.


Highlight Available Resources For Employees Seeking Additional Support for Mental Health


Ensure that employees know where to go to ask for additional support should they need it – for example, recirculate information regarding Employee Assistance Programmes or other external resources. Highlight any internal resources/teams who may also be able to help.


Be Open to Flexible Working – Trust Your Employees


Be open and receptive to requests for flexible working arrangements – whether virtual, hybrid, 4-day/week, or other part-time or job-sharing. Trust your employees to get the job done in the working time or arrangement you have agreed with them.


Enable Team/Group Meeting for All


Ensure that team and group meetings are set up in such a way so that employees working virtually and face-to-face can participate equally. Arrange for team “in-days”  versus team “awaydays” – “in-days” are those days where you can bring team and group members together in-person. Face-to-face working has been shown to be the optimal for certain tasks, including creative tasks.


Support Your Managers


Make sure that your managers also feel supported – they are now managing and dealing with more complex team set-ups and issues – ensure they have the appropriate training and resources.


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Last Updated: 07-Oct-2022