Five ways to support your employees’ mental health

Mental health is hugely important, both in the workplace and beyond. But with the pressures of increasingly fast-paced work environments, it can be difficult to find time to prioritise our mental health.

With 82% of Brits admitting they don’t take a full lunch break, it’s no surprise that 88% of UK employees have experienced burnout in the last two years.

It seems our work is taking precedence over self-care. This is a worrying trend considering the prevalence of people seeking help for their mental health recently. In 2022 alone, mental health services in England received 4.6 million referrals – a record high.

Worryingly, in 2022/23, over 875,000 employees reported stress, anxiety and depression, relating to their work. This resulted in a total loss of 17 million working days. This is clearly a growing issue that needs addressing, but what can businesses do to support their staff?

Commercial painters and decorators Bagnalls has established several ways to support mental health at work, which you can easily replicate in your business. 

1) Appoint mental health colleagues

Mental health first aiders in the workplace are becoming more prevalent. These colleagues are trained to recognise the mental and physical signs of those experiencing mental health distress and can signpost individuals to get professional help. They provide non-judgemental support to those who need it and reduce stigma surrounding opinions of mental health within the team.

A mental health first aider provides a safe space for those who need advice to talk their issues through. They can also identify signs of mental distress in those who might not feel comfortable coming forward and help them to feel supported at work.

Colleagues who undertake mental health first aid training provide an invaluable service within the workplace. Some people may feel more comfortable speaking to a peer who is trained to assess the situation compassionately than approaching a more senior member of staff.

2) Offer access to useful tools

There are a number of useful tools available to help with mental health, from apps and podcasts to gratitude journals and simple breathing exercises. Some tools offer specific packages tailored to the workplace, focusing on how to manage burnout, stress and more.

Employee assistance programmes (EAP) are great tools within the workplace. These systems provide advice and support to employees and their immediate families when dealing with personal issues.

Ellie Jobes, HR Director at Bagnalls says they “want their teams to feel reassured at work.” Bagnalls’ EAP is totally free of charge and confidential to employees. The service is available 24/7, 365 days a year and works to provide practical information, support and counselling on a wide range of personal and work-related issues. This level of support provides employees with the tools to manage and protect their own mental health.

Ellie comments: “Our EAP scheme has built upon our key value of caring for our people at Bagnalls. We know talking about mental health worries can feel intimidating or uncomfortable, so we’re really pleased to hear our employees have felt reassured when accessing the service, and that they have found it useful.”

Offering access to tools such as an EAP can reassure your colleagues that your company takes mental health seriously and encourage those who are struggling to seek help via a professional, confidential service. It’s an important resource for employees who may not feel comfortable raising their concerns with a manager or colleague.

3) Hybrid working

Allowing employees to work from home for part or all of their working week can have a positive impact on mental health. Recent data from Condeco reveals that 7 in 10 workers agree hybrid working shows their company cares about emotional and mental wellbeing. Among those who are already working partially from home, this figure increases to 76%.

Mental health charity Mind has found hybrid working allows for more inclusivity, automatically removing barriers for those living with a mental health condition. People who work from home are able to spend more time with family and friends, sleep better and enjoy their hobbies – all of which contribute to better mental health.

A recent survey of 2,000 UK employees found hybrid workers earned a total of 71 extra hours in bed per year thanks to the days they worked from home!

Having the flexibility to spend part of the week working from home allows greater freedom to perfect a work-life balance, while also maintaining an essential connection with work colleagues.

4) Encourage social bonding

Considering we spend an average of 36.6 hours per week at work in the UK – which amounts to over 1,900 hours in a year – we’re likely to form strong bonds with our colleagues. Socialising with colleagues can help people uncover shared interests and experiences, developing a support network both at work and beyond.

Taking these shared interests and creating staff activities and events around them will further this social bonding and create a more communicative, positive team!

One Bagnalls apprentice took this idea a step further, deciding to set up MATE (Men and Their Emotions) United FC, a charity football team that promotes mental health. Bringing people together through the power of sport and a shared interest in football, MATE United aims to help people find a mate who they can talk to about their mental health.

Initiatives like MATE United FC create a safe place where employees can feel safe sharing their worries and concerns.

5) Learn the signs

There is no one obvious symptom of negative mental health, as everyone experiences and displays emotions differently. However, there are a number of warning signs that usually point towards mental distress. 

There are a wealth of charities and mental health groups available across the country to help those struggling. One such group is Andy’s Man Club, a charity dedicated to eliminating the stigma around mental health and helping men speak openly about their feelings. Its fantastic team runs talking groups for men over 18 to talk about anything that is bothering them in their lives.

Suicide rates are rising and are significantly high for men. The latest research from the ONS shows that the male suicide rate is 15.8 per 100,000 compared to 5.5 per 100,000 for women. The importance of talking and making sure we’re there for our family, friends and colleagues has never been greater.

Neil Waine from Andy’s Man Club has some tips on identifying the signs that someone might be struggling. “If someone you know starts drinking a lot of alcohol, appears restless or irritable and starts to withdraw from activities, reach out to them. Open up the conversation and let them know they aren’t a burden and that you want to help. Remind them it’s never a sign of weakness to admit when you’re struggling.”

Neil suggests asking organisations such as Andy’s Man Club to come into workplaces and speak to staff to show those who might be struggling that there is somewhere for them to go and access help. He says that “speaking about an issue can help lessen its weight on the mind.”

Andy’s Man Club works closely with companies like Bagnalls, often attending talks to speak to teams about mental health and wellbeing at work.

It can be reassuring for colleagues to speak to someone entirely outside of the workplace, with no connection to you as an employer. Keeping mental health worries separate from work can help create a safe space away from external stressors.

If an employee is missing work or seems mentally absent from their tasks, it’s important to approach the situation with a level of understanding and compassion for what they might be going through. Neil suggests “speaking openly and honestly to them” as a first step. If they aren’t comfortable speaking to a manager or the HR department, ask an understanding colleague or mental health first aider to approach them for a relaxed chat.

Knowing to look out for these signs among colleagues and staff can limit the number of people who are struggling in silence. As Neil says, “Talking could save their life.”

Try implementing some of these tips within your workplace to see how they can help everyone within the company to look after their mental health.