To mark mental health awareness week, Jaan Madan of Mental Health First Aid England talks about how firms like Deloitte, PwC and WHSmith are giving their employees the green light to talk about workplace stress
Each year around ten million adults in the UK will experience mental ill health, meaning one in four of us will experience a mental health issue at some point in our lifetime. Over the past few years, awareness of mental health has accelerated, and more and more employers now understand that supporting wellbeing is vital to a healthy workplace.
Mental health awareness week (14-20 May) offers employers a valuable opportunity to consider how stress is approached in their organizations. Today, we have partnered with the Mental Health Foundation to help launch new research around workplace stress. Worryingly, it found almost a quarter of people (23%) say they compromise their health to do their job, and 28% of people have been less productive at work due to stress.
Transformative change starts at the top. So, encouraging senior leaders to champion mental health as a priority issue is a vital first step in creating transparency around the topic and reducing the stigma associated with it. Companies such as Deloitte recognise the importance of this – they are training one in four of their senior leaders in Mental Health First Aid skills.
While it’s evident that attitudes towards mental health in the workplace are shifting, this research demonstrates that some employers are still failing to translate increased awareness into action. Awareness, talking about mental health openly, is a great first step. But to better support employees, transform practices and truly embed a ‘whole organizational’ approach to workplace wellbeing, employers need to make the offer of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training a priority.
To date, over 250,000 people in England have mental health first aid skills. Enlightened employers – from the construction industry through to the financial sector – are training staff to support the mental and emotional wellbeing of their teams by becoming Mental Health First Aiders. This means there are members of staff trained in how to recognise the symptoms of common mental health issues who can effectively guide people towards the right support.
Speaking up early is important, so we're encouraging PwC's new joiners to understand the support available
PwC is one employer taking action on the issue. It has undertaken a range of measures including launching the Green Light to Talk campaign, which encourages people to discuss mental health at work. When it launched, more than 12,500 of PwC’s staff wore green ribbons to show their support.
Sally Evans, wellbeing lead at PwC, said: “At PwC we are implementing a range of measures, including mental health first aid training, to help our people spot the signs, in themselves and others, and have more confident conversations. For us, speaking up early when you're struggling is important, so we're encouraging our new joiners, a lot of whom are graduate recruits, to understand the support available, and know that needing help isn't going to work against them.”
Ensuring managers receive training to help them recognize the symptoms of someone who may be struggling with their mental health can help to prevent issues such as absences or presenteeism before they arise. The Mental Health Foundation’s research found only 14% of people feel comfortable talking to a manager about stress, highlighting the need for more training on the issue.
Alison Garbutt, head of strategic projects at WHSmith, highlighted the impact of mental health training for line managers: “Addressing mental health in the workplace has been high on our agenda since we introduced mental mealth first aid training. We believe mental and physical health are of equal importance, which is why we set ourselves a target to match the number of mental and physical first aiders in our organization.
Over 90% of WHSmith's office line managers are trained in mental health first aid
“We are proud to say we have now met and exceeded that target. Currently, over 90% of our office line managers are trained in mental health first aid and we are also in the process of training our store managers. This widescale approach has had a tangible effect on increasing confidence levels around talking about mental health in our workplace.”
Coping with stress in the workplace starts with being able to have a conversation with your manager, and in a mentally healthy organisation everyone should feel comfortable talking about stress. Which is why, for this year’s mental health awareness week, we have launched the Address Your Stress toolkit, a free practical resource to help employers and employees identify the sources and signs of stress and take steps to help reduce the impact.
This mental health awareness week, we urge employers of all shapes and sizes to act now and take a proactive step towards creating a mentally healthy organisation.
Jaan Madan is the workplace lead at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England CIC, and heads up the organisation’s engagement with workplaces. Download the Address Your Stress toolkit to support mental health awareness week. Find out more at: mhfaengland.org/organisations/workplace.
Mental health workplace stress wellbeing Mental Health Foundation address your stress