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How to improve mental health awareness in the workplace

There’s no time like the present for businesses to start addressing workplace wellbeing The UK Workplace Wellbeing Study found that mental health is the biggest challenge set to face employers within the next five years.

How big is the problem?

Let’s start by looking at the numbers.

Stress, anxiety and depression are the biggest cause of sickness absence, costing UK employers an estimated £26 billion per year.

“21% of people have called in sick to avoid stress at work,” research by Mind.org has shown. 14% of those surveyed also agreed that they had resigned and 42% had considered resigning due to workplace stress.

An NHS report has also found that around 15% of people in work have symptoms of a mental health condition and 6% of people with a long-term condition lose their jobs each quarter, compared to 4% of those with a physical health condition.

How does this impact individuals and businesses?

Mental health is defined by the World Health Organisation as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. Clearly poor mental health has serious implications for the individual, but what knock-on effects does this have for businesses?

  • Increased absenteeism
  • Employees who are unable to work effectively (called presenteeism)
  • Increased workload for other employees
  • Increased employee turnover
  • Lack of career progression for employees

How can you ensure that your employees feel supported when it comes to their mental health?

There are a few strategies you can put in place, some to prevent issues arising and others to help deal with them if they arise.

Promote overall mental and physical wellbeing

  • Gym memberships, yoga classes, cycle-to-work schemes – anything you can do to incentivise physical health.
  • Encouraging work-life balance through flexible working, and not creating a culture where employees feel obligated to work late, or answer emails at all hours of the day.
  • Let employees feel supported – be open and accepting about doctors appointments, family commitments, etc. Treat your employees as whole people with lives outside of the office.

Assess your employees’ workloads regularly

Take the time to assess employees’ individual workloads, just as you would their performance. Managers.co.uk suggest two questions you should constantly be asking yourself: “Is there an individual who is always the last one in the office?” and “Are you and your team working too many hours?”

Look out for signs of poor mental wellbeing

According to bupa.co.uk, here are some of the possible early signs of poor mental health:

  • Poor concentration
  • Being easily distracted
  • Worrying more
  • Finding it hard to make decisions
  • Feeling less interested in day-to-day activities
  • Low mood
  • Feeling overwhelmed by things
  • Tearfulness
  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Sleeping more or less
  • Talking less and avoiding social activities
  • Talking more or talking very fast, jumping between topics and ideas
  • Finding it difficult to control your emotions
  • Drinking more
  • Irritability and short temper
  • Aggression

Train individuals in your workplace to take care of mental health issues

This could involve training managers to be more aware of and equipped to deal with mental health issues. It could also involve having someone give talks and seminars on workplace wellbeing – just make sure it doesn’t add to someone’s workload too much.

Culture of openness

Create an open environment where people experiencing mental health issues feel like they can ask for help. This can involve senior staff taking the lead and being open about their own mental health, showing that it’s not a sign of weakness. You can also let employees know that they can schedule a private meeting to address their concerns if they need to, reducing stigma or embarrassment.

Ultimately, you have a duty to lead by example by sending a clear message to your staff that their wellbeing matters.

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