• International Workplace
  • 10 May 2017

Building mentally healthy workplaces: support AND prevention needed

During Mental Health Awareness Week this week it’s a good time to take stock of how employers can develop the most effective framework to foster good mental health at work. The CIPD 2016 Absence management survey, in partnership with Simplyhealth, found that two in five (41%) employers had identified an increase in reported mental health problems over the past 12 months, so it goes without saying that many more employers need to do more on this front. Mental ill health (such as clinical depression and anxiety) was the third most common cause of long-term sickness absence while stress again emerged as the most common cause.

The CIPD absence management survey again provides useful and concrete data on what works – and also the areas that could need more focus. Encouragingly, most organisations, particularly those in the public and non-profit sectors, are taking some action to promote good mental health and/or support employees with mental health problems.

However, the findings do reveal a gap between those taking reactive, as opposed to preventative, action. It’s vital that employers provide the right support when an individual experiences poor mental health, of course, but it’s also very important that they put in place measures to help prevent people from experiencing a mental health problem, as far as is possible. The survey shows that more than half of respondents agree that their organisation is effective at supporting people with mental health problems, but just two-fifths believe that their organisation actively promotes good mental wellbeing.

Also, views are mixed as to whether senior leaders support the organisation’s focus on mental health and wellbeing through their actions and behaviours, and survey respondents are twice as likely to disagree than agree that managers are confident and competent to spot the early warning signs of poor mental health. Just 5% of organisations have a standalone mental health policy although a further 29% include mental health as part of another policy.

There are a range of steps that employers can take to promote good mental wellbeing, such as: offering flexible working options (52% of organisations, the most common step taken); increasing awareness of mental health issues across the workforce (31%); training to build personal resilience (16%); and mental health champions (6%), to name but a few.

The incidence and awareness of mental health issues has risen up the workplace agenda over the past few years, and the importance of this area for HR professionals and employers will only increase. Wider trends like technological advances and the emergence of a ‘never switching off’ culture are always going to bring new challenges and potential impacts for people’s psychological wellbeing. Therefore we need to constantly assess our organisational responses in areas such as mental health to ensure that they remain effective.

There is commentary about the ‘stigma’ surrounding mental health but often it’s a lack of familiarity and confidence that underpin people’s reluctance to discuss these issues at work as opposed to overt prejudice. Alistair Campbell, speaking recently at the Good Day at Work Conversation at the Royal College of Physicians (as reported by Robertson Cooper), referred to mental health as one of the ‘next great movements of change’ and said that it’s ‘creating parity between mental and physical health in the public and political consciousness that is the ongoing battle.’

The CIPD is committed to helping to achieve that parity for mental health issues at work. It continues to produce research and guidance for its members and organisations and contributes to the wider debate to encourage openness about mental health at work. Its public policy team also plays an active part in a range of Government and other expert steering groups dedicated to progressing this agenda, including the Royal Foundation’s Heads Together campaign. The closer we work together to encourage parity between physical and mental health at work, the quicker we will achieve that collective aim.


This article first appeared at and is reproduced with kind permission.