5 steps to building an effective mental health programme

Starting a new job, arguing with colleagues or upcoming deadlines can all cause us to feel anxious at certain points in our career. But you have the power to support your employees who are struggling by creating a robust mental health programme.

Company Culture
Wellbeing at Work

⋅ min read

This May marks the 22nd Mental Health Awareness Week, and the focus this year is anxiety. This feeling of worry and uneasiness can be easily triggered at work. Starting a new job, arguing with colleagues or upcoming deadlines can all cause us to feel anxious at certain points in our career. 

But here’s the good news. You, and the rest of the HR team, have the power to change how your employees react to these situations. This starts with creating a robust mental health programme to help anyone who might be struggling.

What causes anxiety at work?

Before you put a plan in place, you might find it helpful to know which situations or events can be triggering for employees – whether they’re already suffering from mental health issues or not.

Here are some anxiety triggers that might occur at work:

  • Toxic culture (bullying, harassment etc.)
  • Disagreements with peers or managers
  • Unrealistic deadlines or workload
  • Lack of support
  • Job security fears

And this isn’t just restricted to working hours. Someone might be reminded of or plagued by something that’s happened at work, preventing someone from falling asleep at night or causing them to be irritable at home.

What are the symptoms?

As well as taking these anxieties into their personal lives, employees can show symptoms of anxiety in a whole host of ways. 

Here are some of the behaviours to look out for:

  • Visible anger and impatience
  • Difficulty concentrating or a lack of motivation
  • Panic attacks
  • Sweating and hot flushes
  • Fatigue
  • Increased absenteeism

5 steps to building your own mental health programme

If you’re not sure where to start, follow these 5 simple tips to implement the actions needed to support your employees’ mental wellbeing.

1. Make sure all managers receive training

Your first port of call should be making sure all managers and senior leaders have adequate mental health training. There are a number of benefits to this, for both employees and the business. 

For instance, training can help leaders to feel confident having what can be uncomfortable mental health conversations as part of everyday management. Plus, it can help managers to spot signs of mental health issues in their employees, enabling them to provide the right guidance and signpost them towards useful resources. Not to mention, it’s good practice for role-modelling self-care in the workplace, encouraging more junior employees to take their advice on board and protect their own mental wellbeing.

You have a whole load of options when it comes to choosing the right training course for your business. Mental health charity Mind offers a range of e-Learning courses and virtual training, or Headspace for Work relies on science-backed meditation and mindfulness to help managers address their teams’ mental health head-on.

2. Offer mental health-related benefits

Providing mental health-focused offerings as part of your employee benefits package is really important. Embedding this into your wider wellbeing drive can reinforce that it’s not just our physical health we should be taking care of. 

On top of physical health-related perks like subsidised gym subscriptions and free fruit, lots of companies are now offering flexible working. Doing so gives people the freedom to work when it best suits them, and gives them the confidence that their employer trusts them. 

You could also offer counselling or an EAP programme to help employees deal with personal problems that might be affecting their work. They offer packages to suit your business size and budget, with options including free 24/7 counselling, critical incident advice and telephone support and manager support guides.

One way to be proactive – not just reactive – is to offer mental wellbeing days to your team. These are in addition to annual leave allowance and could be given monthly or however frequently works for you. It’s a great way to give your employees the time and space to rest, recharge or spend time in any way that helps them return to work motivated and ready to do their best work.

3. Encourage open discussion about mental health

Destigmatising mental health has to start at the top. Your leaders are responsible for driving business growth, and your employees’ mental state is likely to affect this, after all.

If you have a monthly company-wide meeting, for example, why not dedicate a section to mental health? You could ask managers who feel comfortable doing so to share an anecdote about a challenge they’ve faced and overcome, creating an atmosphere of acceptance and reminding other employees that it’s okay not to be okay.

Dedicating time for these chats in more frequent manager check-ins and performance reviews is also important. While progress on certain projects and the next steps towards promotion are likely to dominate conversation, don’t forget to ask your employees how they’re coping with workload and if there’s anything they want to get off their chest.

For anyone who’s struggling to open up, you might want to share these tips on how to talk to your employer about your mental health.

4. Don’t ignore financial wellbeing

It’s not just mental wellbeing that risks taking the backseat to physical health. Financial wellbeing is often disregarded, too. But feeling happy with our financial situation is key to maintaining solid overall health.

The cost of living crisis affects everyone in some way, but some are hit harder than others. Flexible working can help your employees cut costs as they won’t have to travel to the office every day, which can make a big difference. For those who are struggling with their finances, Octopus Money Coach can help. You get your own money coach who can help you build a personalised plan for your finances, regardless of your situation. It’s a great way to start feeling hopeful again. 

And if things start to feel unmanageable, StepChange is the UK’s leading debt charity. They offer free advice to anyone who needs a hand getting their money back on track.

5. Signpost towards support 

Finally, create an online hub of useful resources and contacts for your employees. The key is to make this easily accessible to everyone – maybe you could pin a link to it in a company-wide Slack channel, include it in your new joiners welcome pack and decorate your office with posters pointing people in the right direction.

If you’re stuck on which resources to reference, the Samaritans can be reached 24/7 and they have a handy self-help app to help people keep track of how they’re feeling. Mental Health at Work provides some excellent resources on a whole range of topics, from practical financial skills to tips on sleep hygiene. And don’t forget about Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), a charity providing helplines and support dedicated to preventing male suicide in particular.

As part of encouraging staff to open up about their mental health, it’s always worth asking for their buy-in when it comes to resources. Sharing is caring, and when it comes to tackling our struggles, you can never have too much help!

These 5 steps should put you on the right path to building a successful mental health programme for everyone at your work. Once you’ve created it, just make sure it doesn’t get lost amongst the other important policies and guidelines. Mental health is just as important as physical health, so making it a priority is critical.

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