If a business wants to properly look after the well-being of its employees, then it needs a suitable mental health strategy in place. Companies are expected to protect the health and safety of employees. In order to achieve parity of esteem, where mental health is valued as much as physical health, a business should ensure that it understands what a mentally healthy workplace looks like, and how that can be achieved.
Many companies are beginning to realize the importance of enhancing employee well-being. After all, presenteeism majorly impacts businesses, resulting in losses in profit, productivity, and employee morale and retention. Nevertheless, employers can integrate specific components in their mental health strategy that will serve to boost employee satisfaction.
1. Leadership Support
It’s important to have a governance structure in place that will support and develop an organization’s workplace mental health strategy. Many companies already have a governance structure that may address these issues, such as a Health, Safety and Well-Being Committee. If an organization doesn’t a governance structure like this that is – at least partially – dedicated to mental health, then one needs to be set up.
And if a company has a governance structure like this already established, then it should ensure that it’s working optimally. This would involve receiving input from all levels of the organization so that no one’s needs and concerns are left out. A strategy team will benefit from broad representation, as well as being guided by a working group and champions. The committee will also be highly effective if it is led by an executive sponsor – someone in a position of authority who is passionate about mental health. The working group will ideally be involved in implementing key aspects of the mental health strategy, including:
• Encouraging staff participation
• Coordinating focus groups or surveys
• Reviewing surveys
• Identifying priorities
• Establishing goals
• Developing an action plan
• Devising and monitoring timelines
• Implementing and reviewing actions
2. Identify Needs
In order for a company to effectively deliver its mental health strategy, it needs to identify existing policies, programmes, supports, and practices, and then clarify what improvements are called for. The next step is to review and analyze existing data and research so that gaps and weaknesses in the workplace mental health strategy can be clarified. Organizations should pay close attention to:
• Absenteeism rates and reports
• Bullying and sexual harassment reports and claims
• Workers’ compensation claims
• Stress claims
• Peer support programme use and trends
• Turnover rates
• Exit interview data
• Measurements of workplace productivity
• Self-reported substance abuse
• Drug/alcohol-related incidents
• Employee performance review feedback
• Staff survey results
Another vital way that a company can gauge the quality and efficacy of its mental health strategy is by consulting with staff and other stakeholders to identify key issues and seek feedback on the existing approach.
3. Develop a Plan
When developing a workplace mental health strategy, it’s crucial for any employer to establish desired outcomes and set goals. This involves:
• Ranking issues in a sequential manner
• Consulting with the working group and champions to understand the importance of these issues
• Prioritizing the most important issues
• Discussing the list of goals with internal and external stakeholders for feedback and to see if there is general agreement
• Narrowing the list down to about five goals, linking goal statements to each of them, and setting achievable, short-term targets that fit in with the broader goal in question
• Creating an overarching statement that summarises what success looks like in terms of a workplace mental health strategy
Other useful steps to take in developing an effective plan include:
• Identifying the need for collaborations and external expertise
• Focusing on promoting positive mental health, protecting employees’ from risk factors for poor mental health, and supporting workers with mental health conditions
• Ensuring that the action plan is realistic and achievable
• Implementing actions that make a difference, which could include changing structural issues that contribute to fatigue and stress, giving employees more control over their work, promoting work-life balance, and encouraging a workplace culture of openness and tolerance
4. Monitor, Review, and Improve
An organization can only improve its mental health strategy by monitoring and reviewing its progress. This first step is to make sure:
• The action plan is being implemented appropriately – and sustainably – by the right people
• Everyone in the organization is aware of the mental health strategy, the policies being introduced, the actions taken, and why.
• There is a widespread and up-to-date understanding of how to access information and services that are part of the plan
Employers should then seek feedback from staff on the implementation of the strategy and its effectiveness. This might involve asking the staff if they think the actionable plan has successfully delivered the intended results. The next step is to collect data to compare with the baseline and measure progress against goals. This should lead to a comprehensive review of the strategy and amendments to actions where deemed necessary.
While developing a plan like this may seem lengthy and costly, committing financial, human, and other resources to a workplace mental health strategy really does pay off in the long-term.