Mental Health Awareness Week comes at a time when the sun is starting to shine again and beach days are firmly in sight. Yet, despite the positivity in the air, the littlest things can still impact a worker’s day, and not always for the better.

It is imperative this Mental Health Awareness Week that businesses prioritise their workforce’s wellbeing. Having resources in place, communication at its best, and evading a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach are essential steps towards creating a happy workforce that feels supported by senior leadership.

With that in mind, business leaders have reflected on the importance of mental health in their workplaces and lead by example in implementing a strong infrastructure of internal support.

Providing resources for better wellbeing

Providing valuable resources to enhance an employee’s mental health is being recognised as a foundational step towards emphasising the importance of wellbeing support at work.

Tax Systems is turning its attention to supporting employee mental health and well-being. “We call it “Vibrant Ways of Working”. This term reflects how we want to support all our people to thrive and flourish individually, so we as an organisation can do so too”, says Bruce Martin, CEO of Tax Systems.

“We offer additional days off for wellbeing and birthdays; employee assistance programme support; we’re investing in mental health first aiders; and we’ve set up a diversity, equality and inclusion group to further enable full participation for all our people. And whilst these are all great, and symptomatic of our will to do better, these are also now fairly standard workplace offerings now, as they should be,” he continues.

Martin reflects on why these initiatives are important: “Work is often cited as the biggest contributor to mental illness. In fact, last year a report illustrated that stress, depression, and anxiety made up around half of all work-related illnesses. It has never been more imperative for businesses to turn their attention to supporting employee mental health and wellbeing.”

Oksana Chernikova, Employee Experience Director at Intellias, illustrates how their company programme provides access to psychotherapy services, making an expensive option more accessible. “Intellias supports employees’ mental health through our corporate programme IntelliCare. This program enables employees to join individual or group psychotherapy sessions up to eight times per year at the push of a button.

“We also share bi-weekly updates on an internal platform that includes self-help resources and expert lectures. Additionally, our employee compensation plans include the Mental Health program, covering the cost of any personal psychotherapy costs.”

Approaching communication with care

Alongside resources, it is important that employees feel safe and comfortable talking about their mental health in their working environment; being met with compassion, empathy and understanding is key to ensuring open communications and support.

According to Node4’s Chief People Officer, Dave Birchall, it is essential that the door is open for honest conversations at work. “All organisations should be establishing and promoting a culture of empathy and understanding so that, should an employee be struggling, they feel comfortable in asking for help.

“There are simple ways to achieve this, such as encouraging managers to have regular informal check-ins with all employees, or a monthly coffee morning for people to connect and bond. More targeted support could be to provide tips and techniques to help tackle anxiety and manage stress, and to offer access to professional support services.”

“To bring taboo topics more into the open, members of our leadership team have been sharing their own experiences and advice as to how they manage their health and well-being at work,” adds Lindsay Gallard, Chief People Officer at Six Degrees.

“That is, it is a culture of openness, trust, and support that best allows people to speak about their mental health, have the confidence to engage with the avenues available and, ultimately, look after themselves – and each other.”

Finding balance with flexibility

Flexible working has boomed since the COVID-19 pandemic, and businesses are recognising the benefits of working from home and flexible working hours to accommodate employee lifestyles.

“In order to truly build a culture that supports employees in building a better work-life balance, organisations should offer flexible working policies wherever possible,” says Rob Shaw, SVP Global Sales at Fluent Commerce.  “Truly flexible workplaces allow employees to fit their work in with the rest of their lives, and make the workplace more accessible for those with mental health conditions. Combining this with the proper support both virtually and in the office will truly allow employers to drive positive change.”

Tax Systems’ Bruce Martin values the little things that can make a big impact on an employee’s day. “Our people work in a way that suits them – so they can make their afternoon gym class, or late lunch with friends; walk their dog mid-afternoon or do the school run – whatever it is, regardless of justification. We all have lives, and we all experience moments of stress, so having time for what may seem like small things, often makes a big difference.”

“Establishing a good work-life balance is crucial for avoiding burnout, and business leaders are responsible for ensuring that their employees are not fatigued”, agrees Aqilla’s Hugh Scantlebury.

“People work best when they are not stressed or overwhelmed, so every business leader should take action to relieve the pressure on their employees. That’s something to remember every day, not just during Mental Health Awareness Week.”

Mental health affects everyone

Whether an employee has a known mental health condition or not, everyone can benefit from providing resources and support to combat burnout, anxiety, and low mood. It is vital that supports are available for the most junior of employees, all the way up to senior leadership.

Sam Humphries, Head of Security Strategy, EMEA at Exabeam, is particularly concerned for security teams during a time when budgets are being slashed and workload is growing. “Cybercriminals don’t follow the typical 9-5, so security teams commonly work in an ‘always-on’ state; even taking personal time off to relax can be difficult to achieve. In addition to the ‘built in’ stress that cybersecurity teams face, economic pressures over the last few years have led to increasingly tightened budgets, smaller teams, and greater responsibilities being placed on CISOs without additional support.

“Encouraging open conversations – particularly around mental health – and checking in with staff can do wonders in boosting their morale. It’s also important to ensure employees feel there is support available to them at every level – from the CISO to analysts.”

Rob Shaw from Fluent Commerce agrees that meaningful action needs to take place. “With 76% of UK employees reporting moderate-to-high or high levels of stress, it’s clear that organisations need to do their utmost to provide better support and boost workplace wellbeing. Stress and anxiety can have a hugely negative impact on employees’ personal lives, as well as reducing productivity in the workplace, so it’s vital that businesses do better.”

“Some employees may struggle with a mental health condition outside of work, which will require support and understanding, but it is also not uncommon for employees who don’t typically struggle with mental ill-health to experience burnout, demotivation, or a general low mood,” adds Node4’s Dave Birchall.

Businesses must influence each other to provide excellent mental health support to employees. The positive impact that these societal changes can hold not only benefits the employees themselves, but could also spread to the workers’ homes, friends, and families. This Mental Health Awareness Week, it is time to make waves, spur trends, and trigger changes that will have a lasting impression on all people; you never know what any small action can mean for someone who is struggling.