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4 Practical steps to foster a culture of openness around mental health

When we spoke with a number of employees across the UK, it became readily apparent there is still a stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace...

Our recent Mental Health in the Workplace Report found less than one quarter of employees said their company engages regularly with them around mental health issues (23.8%). 

‘Shame’, ‘embarrassment’, ‘weakness’, and ‘inferior’ - all words frequently used to describe how they or others might feel having to talk about their mental health to their employer.

This needs to change if we want healthier, happier and more productive employees. While the culture of a company can’t be transformed overnight, there are some changes that can be made to help address this issue today. With commitment and time companies can build a supportive culture of openness around mental health in your business.

Find out how our business health and wellbeing services could support both your business and employees here.

Here are four steps to get you started:

1. Create a mental health policy

Our research revealed that over half of employees surveyed said their employer doesn’t have an official mental health or workplace wellbeing policy (27.9%) or don’t know if they do (26.1%). If you don’t have a formal policy, this is an obvious and crucial first step.

By creating a mental health policy you send a strong signal to staff that mental health in the workplace matters and that you will take it seriously. Your policy should make it crystal clear that opening up about mental health matters will result in help and support rather than discrimination.

Your policy should explain that mental health will be treated in the same manner and with as much respect as physical health. Back this up with specific policies, such as flexible working conditions and paid leave. By creating, circulating and promoting your mental health policy, you will help to erode the stigma of shame and silence surrounding mental health. Ensure that all staff, but especially managers, are aware of the policy by holding sessions to take them through the detail and what their responsibilities as line managers are.

2. Provide access to a 24/7 confidential helpline

Almost seven out of ten (69.1%) employees we surveyed said they’d use a confidential mental health helpline provided by their current or future employer if they were experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. This is simple to implement through an Employee Assistance Programme and provides your workforce with a practical tool to help proactively manage their mental health.

Find out how our business health and wellbeing services could support both your business and employees here.

3. Ensure a good work/life balance

Employees need adequate time away from work to recharge; if they don’t they’ll risk burn out and poor mental health. Yet six in ten (61.3%) employees we surveyed said achieving a good work-life balance has become more difficult in the last five years. Businesses need to make it clear that work-life balance is important. You could start to do this by:

  • Setting reasonable communication expectations (e.g. make it clear employees are not obliged to reply to emails outside of office hours)

  • Offering flexible working arrangements

  • Encouraging employees to take lunch breaks and use their allocated holiday time etc.

This behaviour must be modelled from top down. If your managers are taking company calls while on a holiday or only ever eat lunch at their desk it sets expectations and employees will feel obliged to do the same.

Read Why employee work/life balance matters for more information on improving work/life balance in your company.

4. Introduce mental health training

Our report revealed that less than one in ten (8.8%) employees would confide in their employers if they were suffering from a mental health condition. Yet eight out of ten employees (83.2%) we surveyed said they thought it would be helpful if all businesses provided mental health awareness training to line managers

Understandably the focus of mental health within the workplace may be a new concept for many managers and without training they may feel their efforts are inadequate or even unhelpful. You can empower them to help their team by providing them with useful training which could include:

  • The different models of mental health– medical/biological or psychological and social

  • How mental illnesses are diagnosed

  • The causes, signs and symptoms and treatment and support options that relate to stress, anxiety and depression

  • How to use basic listening skills to build rapport, promote trust and encourage openness

  • What organisations are expected to do for employees who are stressed, anxious or depressed

  • Appropriate language and topics for 1:1 meetings with staff who are struggling

  • Skills to help someone manage their anxiety and low mood

  • How to help support someone experiencing a mental health condition


These four steps are just a few ideas you can use to help nudge your businesses towards creating a more compassionate and open culture. To learn more about mental health within the workplace and find out how else you can support your employees’ wellbeing download our free report.