There’s no question that the topic of wellbeing is now high on the boardroom agenda. Once seen as being the remit of HR professionals, progressive CEOs are now championing this agenda and along with their leadership teams they are becoming the conduit to positive change. As the founding members of the Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health (including CEOs from BHP, Clifford Chance, Deloitte, HSBC, Salesforce and Unilever) urges, businesses must “prioritize and invest in the mental health of all employees” as both a business necessity and a societal imperative. There has never been an opportunity as great as the one we have now to reshape how we view wellbeing, and to re-write the rules for the impact work has on our physical and mental health.
It goes without saying that mental health should form a key part of any wellbeing strategy. Often sitting alongside physical and financial wellbeing as core pillars of any plan. However, when you really stop to think about it, it’s probably the one element of the strategy that has the potential to derail or amplify the impact of all activities that sit alongside it. How we feel psychologically has a direct impact on our ability to plan, manage and thrive in all areas of our life.
So, as we start a new year, it’s time to review how we position mental health at work and especially how we think about it in relation to our wellbeing strategy. Perhaps it’s time to think about mental health as being the heart of our wellbeing strategy, the central point that nourishes and energises all the other elements of our plan. Here’s 8 guideposts for developing your approach for 2023…
1-Setting your purpose, goals & outcomes
To begin, it can be a useful exercise to map out why you have a wellbeing strategy in the first place. What’s its purpose in your organisation? Who will see it? Who owns it? As Simon Sinek says, always start with the ‘Why.’ It might seem obvious to you why you need a wellbeing strategy and why you need to prioritise mental health, but the key here is to ensure you have one version of this truth that’s shared by everyone that the strategy exists to support. For example, Sweaty Betty’s ‘Why’ underpinning their wellbeing initiatives is ‘Healthy staff inside and out’, aligned to their business mission ‘to empower women through fitness and beyond by creating beautiful, technical activewear’.
When you think about this ‘why,’ it's also important to be clear on what your goals are, and what measurable outcomes you’re looking for, e.g., reducing absence, improved productivity, supporting leadership development, compliance etc. What do you want the strategy to achieve? People are much more likely to engage with a wellbeing plan where they understand the purpose of it and it feels cohesive with a clear thread.
It can often be hard to set tangible SMART goals around the topic of mental health, especially when we know there’s a high probability that people won’t always feel comfortable sharing when they’re struggling here. If you’re working with an external partner, it’s likely that they’ll be able to give you anonymised data to help pinpoint priority mental health areas to change (e.g., burnout, imposter syndrome, anxiety) to drive your overall goals such as absenteeism or employee wellbeing. For example, My Therapy Assistant’s solution includes aggregated, anonymised SMART reports showing the key mental health topics that people have raised through our RightMatch service when they first seek support. This provides employers with invaluable insight on emerging trends and issues.
2-Uncovering insights from the data
When you’re conducting your initial review and considering how you can put mental health at the heart of your strategy, make sure you’re leveraging different sources of data and digging for the insights below, asking ‘why?’ and ‘what does this mean’? Remember the real mental health issues are often hidden and unseen.
What data do you have that will give you evidence, and facts related to mental wellbeing. E.g., absence data, long term sick information, employee relations themes and trends, exit interviews and feedback from any service providers you’re working with. You can also look at any information you may have on user engagement with current mental wellbeing initiatives, and existing budget and cost data for wellbeing benefits. Look for information themes that lead to insights around the hidden mental health needs that matter most to your business.
What does the market and external business environment tell you about what you might need. E.g., Does the economic climate indicate that your employees may need additional support in a specific area. What external events are impacting on the support people need now and in the near future? What’s the likely impact of this on mental wellbeing and what’s the response within your wellbeing strategy to new developments and trends that are emerging.
Then, perhaps the most important factor is to listen to what your people are telling you both directly and indirectly. This information can come via surveys, 1:1 conversations, focus groups and also from the observed actions and behaviours of your team. It’s important to have the right systems and culture to generate this understanding on an ongoing basis. Monzo Bank, for example, uses Slack channels to generate insights into mental health topics, supported by an open culture. As Monzo People Experience Director, Tara Ryan, says “Due to our transparent culture we hear opinions all the time… All the things I’m hearing are things that workers in other organisations are saying, they’re just not saying it to their HR leaders”.
3-Pressure test your existing wellbeing strategies & plans
Once you have clarity on your wellbeing goals and priority mental health needs, review this against your existing wellbeing strategy (if you have one) to identify any needs gaps or areas of concern. Even if you don’t have anything formally written down at this stage, you might still have something in place such as an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), absence policy, or other benefits that support positive wellbeing in your organisation.
List out what you have, why you have it, what percentage of people engage with it and what the cost of it is. You need to figure out what’s working well and assess if you’re getting a good return on investment on the things you already have in place. Avoid making assumptions here - just because you have an EAP in place, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an effective solution for psychological wellbeing for all people in your business.
As reported in People Management Magazine in October 2022. The Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) urged employers to remember that EAPs were “never intended to be the whole solution”. So, talk to your provider and get a good understanding of what they do and don’t provide.
Get feedback from employees who have used the different mental health benefits available, what works and what doesn’t. Consider accessibility here too. Are the wellbeing benefits you have in place accessible to all or do you have some groups of employees who may find it harder or even impossible to access the things you have in place.
When you’ve reviewed what you have in place against what you know you need, you’re in a really good position to realign your wellbeing strategy with mental health firmly at the heart of it.
4-Positioning mental health in the business
Mental or psychological wellbeing can mean different things to different people, some people think of mental health support as being something that happens in a crisis situation, others think of it as part of everyday life. It’s important to demonstrate to your business that mental health & wellbeing is on a spectrum from suffering (in crisis) and struggling through to just surviving and thriving. Too often mental health issues are not effectively addressed until people are really suffering.
Mental health benefits are not something that exist just for certain people at certain times, when you put them at the heart of your strategy, the positioning is that we all have mental health and equal access to tools and resources that help enhance mental wellbeing as the norm.
Positioning is equally important for your senior leadership and engaging them with mental health & wellbeing as critical to a growing business and culture. As well as the impact of mental health strategies on business metrics such as employee wellbeing and recruitment, the cost of poor mental health to businesses in the UK is £1,475-£2,278 per employee, so there is a compelling business case that can be made.
5-Prioritising the right blend of mental health activities
As your strategy develops and your overall wellbeing plan starts to take shape, think about choosing benefits that work well together and that align with the goals and outcomes you’ve identified. Avoid introducing anything that doesn’t fit with your plan or that compromises your mental health first positioning.
For example, the World Health Organisation emphasises the importance of training line managers to improve employee mental health and this has become a key focus for organisations, so you might decide that you want all managers to have mental health training. But do you have sufficient budget and resources to accommodate that? As with Mental Health First Aiders, there are clearly limitations on what they can do and when professional support is needed, so has this been explicitly defined?
Similarly, you may provide some level of counselling or therapy support through more general employee assistance and wellbeing programmes, but it’s essential to check you’ve got the right depth and breadth of therapists for your people’s mental health needs - not just Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), but also Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT), Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR), Schema, Somatic, Psychodynamic and Art therapies. If you haven’t already done so, check the number of clinical practice years of your providers' therapists and the range of therapies offered. There’s an important difference between counselling and therapy services and providing counselling only is often not sufficient.
It’s also essential to have the right blend of in-person and digital support for mental health. This could include setting up a blend of initiatives such as digital solutions, mindfulness sessions or stress management workshops which open up conversations around mental health topics and help team members learn new strategies for managing stress. With anything you do set up, consider any barriers to access for certain groups of employees that might exist and ensure that they are addressed prior to launch.
In our consumer lives, we expect the relevant services we want, how we want them, when we want them, and this is no different in the workplace. Digital solutions must be harnessed in the same way in workplace mental health and simply integrated into existing wellbeing programmes. Our experience and research have shown people suffering with their mental health want ease and simplicity in talking confidentially to the right therapist quickly, not calling phone lines and having to talking to people who aren't the actual therapist. It’s why we created an automated triage service connecting a person to the right therapists in under 5 minutes, who can be booked for appointments instantly - often on the same day.
6-Creating an environment that’s supportive of mental health
Creating an inclusive environment at work is crucial for supporting employees’ mental health needs. This starts by eliminating stigmas related to mental health conditions and fostering an open dialogue about the topic so that team members feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear of judgement. Implementing programs that provide employees with confidential access to therapy services or peer-support networks can help create a supportive atmosphere where individuals feel safe sharing their experiences without being judged or stigmatised. Additionally, providing mental wellbeing or therapy sessions as core part of a leadership development programmes can help reframe outdated perceptions of the role therapy can play.
In times of stress or difficulty, it’s important that employers provide employees with the opportunity to take time off if needed without feeling guilty or ashamed about doing so. These systems should be clearly communicated across all teams, so everyone knows their rights and feels empowered enough to take time off when they need it most. Allowing people time away from work if they are struggling mentally and giving them peace of mind to know they won’t suffer professionally because of it when they return back to work is a very powerful thing.
Encouraging authentic and regular check-ins between managers and their direct reports allows business leaders to build trust with their teams and ensure everyone is feeling supported during difficult times at work – whether this may be through increased workloads, changes within the company structure or other external factors outside of the individual’s control causing added pressure on team members mentally. Regular catch ups allow managers to gain insights into how their teams are really feeling so they can offer any help where necessary whilst ensuring everyone stays connected throughout turbulent times – helping foster meaningful relationships between colleagues rather than just operational ones which can prove vital when it comes down taking care of employee wellbeing holistically.
7-Motivating people to get involved
HR teams play a crucial role in ensuring that wellbeing is embedded into the employee experience life cycle and will drive engagement at all levels. In some cases, it’s likely that HR will be perceived as the ‘owners’ of the wellbeing strategy but it can be more helpful for HR leaders and teams to take on the role of passionate ambassadors cultivating an environment of shared ownership for this agenda. The more engaged people are with your mental wellbeing activity the more successful it will be, there’s no one size fits all approach here so it’s best to do this in a way that fits your unique business and culture. However, some examples of ways that people could get involved are as follows.
All employees - Every employee should have some way in which they can give feedback on wellbeing initiatives and to put forward ideas. This could be through surveys, 1:1 meetings or through focus groups.
Wellbeing champions - Wellbeing champions can play an essential role in driving engagement levels for wellbeing initiatives and promoting mental health at work. Many organisations are now mobilising mental health champions across the organisations, such as KPMG through its ‘Be Mindful Network’.
Managers and leadership teams - Managers and leaders can support or undermine wellbeing initiatives in a single conversation so it’s important they understand and are aligned with the wellbeing strategy and are comfortable supporting their team with mental health. With the leadership team, it’s beneficial to have a board level sponsor who is passionate about mental health and wellbeing who can champion and promote activity at the highest level at the same time as being a credible role model.
8-Monitoring and amplifying success
A lot of wellbeing initiatives can take some time to produce meaningful results and especially so if they are also running alongside culture or organisational development change programmes.
It can be helpful to set up a dashboard to track key metrics from the start point of your strategy and build in monthly review points so you can start to track trends and impact. Identify what’s working and areas to improve using the data and insights (as per guidepost 2), promoting successes within the organisation to accelerate adoption and advocacy for your mental health services. However, be patient and know that it’s likely to take a few months for meaningful data to emerge. If you’re working with an external partner, be sure to incorporate the aggregated and anonymised data they provide and take action as soon as issues are identified.
Use the early stages of launch to listen to and address initial teething problems and adjust elements of your wellbeing solutions if needed. Over time, the data and trend info that you identify will support you in transitioning from a reactive position to a more pro-active approach.
Overall, there are many effective strategies that businesses can implement to help put mental health at the heart of a wellbeing strategy, it’s important to find the right blend of solutions that’s right for your business. Using these 8 guideposts can help make sure you do in 2023:
Please get in touch if you’d like personalised support on how to put mental health at the heart of your wellbeing strategy or if you’d like to chat about the best ways to incorporate our digital therapy platform and mental health services into your wellbeing programmes.
Contact details for inquiries:
Rich Bryson - Rich@mytherapyassistant.com
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