What Can Employers Do to Support Mental Health?

If you wake up with a runny nose and a cough, you’ll call your boss and likely exchange comments about how you hope it’s not COVID. But, critically, you’ll then crawl back into bed for a day of rest and trashy films… and potentially two weeks of self-isolation. But what if your illness isn’t so obvious? What if it’s a mental health problem?

Issues like anxiety and depression can leave us feeling just as bunged up. Yet, for many years, those struggling have felt unempowered to make that same call. In fact, research shows that 85% of private sector workers always or usually go into work despite mental health struggles — a fact that costs companies anywhere between £26.6-£29.6 billion in presenteeism alone.

Note: “Presenteeism” is the act of showing up to work without being productive — generally because of ill health. It’s a rising issue that costs companies as much, if not more, than the more traditional metric “absenteeism”.

The lack of real mental health support is a driving issue behind the challenges of both presenteeism and absenteeism — along with employee wellbeing more generally. Pre-2020 strategies often revolved around open-door policies, on-site therapy and more. The pandemic — and the hybrid workplace that’s now here to stay — have left most of these options off the table, and 80% of Brits report increased mental struggles off the back of this change.

Of course, remote or hybrid working is not the enemy — it has the potential to improve work/life balance just as much as damaging it. For example, spending time with your family rather than commuting, more regular access to nature and the outdoors (and closer proximity to the snack cupboard). But employers still need to find new ways of offering mental health support to a workforce they may not see in person as often. Here, we are going to consider how to do just that.

Step 1: Managers – Starting the conversation

In recent years, more and more people are realising mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. But recognising that on a survey is different than really internalising that message and believing it when it comes to yourself.

Breaking mental health stigma in your organisation has been an ongoing effort. The question is — what can employers do to change perceptions in a hybrid working landscape? Improvement here rests on the normalisation of talking about mental health — that shift in outlook starts with management. Managers can kickstart this shift by having good conversations about mental health. To do that, managers should:


💻 Watch our webinar: Practical guidance for managers on approaching mental health conversations 


  • Increase their understanding: Arm themselves with knowledge and facts about mental health issues so they can build their own understanding and start implementing change from the top. In every sense, mental health equates physical health.
  • Speak with facts: It is crucial to provide evidence based knowledge (and resources) that can encourage real change.
  • Model good behaviours: Encourage positive mental health in the workplace by prioritising their own mental health and leading the way for others to do the same.
  • Avoid a ‘fix-it’ mentality: 1:1 conversations between managers and employees can fall into the ‘fix-it’ cycle, which is too solutions-oriented and will not constitute a healthy conversation about mental health. Managers should encourage employees to generate solutions with them that are best suited to their needs.
  • Maintain boundaries: Help your employee feel supported by maintaining boundaries. Recognise when to go pro and make sure to encourage people to get professional help if needed.
  • Keep the conversation open: Use curious, open-ended questions and make sure to give your employees time to respond.
  • Respect is paramount: Treat any employee with mental health issues with respect, and don’t label them by their diagnosis. We all fit on the mental health spectrum, and although we may feel okay now, that doesn’t mean we won’t experience a mental health issue in the future.
  • Always follow up: Ensure that you make time to connect with your employees at work after demonstrating any mental health troubles. More than this you should make a wellbeing action plan to support staff after the fact.

Pro tip: Managers hold the keys to cultural change in your organisation. By investing in mental health training for managers, you can help them help everyone. Just remember that managers aren’t mental health professionals and provide them the support they need to succeed.

Step 2: Education – Invest in mental health training material

You shouldn’t wait for mental health to take a hit before you prioritise mental health conversations. A dedicated and specialised mental health training strategy that both managers and their teams can digest is the best way to get ahead of the game and start investing in a brighter future.

And how do you improve digestion I hear you ask? Put down the Gaviscon, we are talking about learning here which means we are talking about making it as engaging as possible. That’s where engaging learning content providers come in — and, the most engaging kind of content is video, so finding a provider that offers video delivery is vital. Unlike dusty old PowerPoint style training, great video content (like ours) can turn even serious conversations into fun and engaging learning opportunities, thanks to:

  • Humorous, relatable content that learners can recognise and identify with.
  • Bite-sized videos supplemented by engaging eLearning course material for even the shortest attention span.
  • The ability to slot videos into your existing content programme, improving personalisation.

Suggested reading: For more information and tips on how to make your learning strategy more engaging, check out our blog — What’s The Secret to Learner Engagement?

Step 3: Culture – commit to structural change

Mental health awareness is the foundation of better mental health outcomes. But, in order to fully realise your mental health support system, you need to implement broader structural changes as well. After all, if you know everyone hates the office coffee machine, simply adding some fancy vanilla syrup isn’t going to cut it. You can’t mask a problem as big as poor coffee, and certainly not one as critical as poor mental health.

Here are some good things to consider and include in your strategy:

1. The ability to unwind

36% of participants in a recent Nuffield Health survey about remote work reported feeling unable to step away from their desks, while 27% reported difficulty switching off at the end of the day. For some, remote working has been great for work/life balance, but for others it’s only made the struggle harder. Add to that the difficulty of going abroad to take a proper holiday, and far too many people are failing to recharge — creating risk of burnout.

By making it easier to request dedicated time off, regardless of remote arrangements, employers can change this focus, ensuring that team members seek time off for recuperation and a fresh slate whenever they need it. Even if it is a day off to catch up on The Bake Off in your pyjamas on the sofa — self-care can be eating cake while watching people bake!

2. Ongoing support

Far from simply keeping their office doors open, managers now need to be proactive about how they offer support. Easily accessible support lines like Spill play a huge part in that by offering immediate, anonymous mental health support that integrates with company software. You may also want to consider mental health first aiders, or setting up a mental health advisory board to make sure the entire business is supported. By providing engaging mental health training within your L&D programme, you can also ensure that employees have access to a range of ongoing support that is confidential, knowledgeable and available to them when they need it.

The secret to effective learning experiences is engaging content.

The secret to effective learning experiences is engaging content.

3. More mental health training

You could make all the changes under the sun to your company structure, but if you don’t support those changes with in-depth training for your employees and your managers, how will they be expected to carry those changes forward?

You need to provide your managers with the means to authentically educate employees on what these changes mean, and how this affects them. You also need to provide managers with support for how to handle mental health situations, how to better engage with employees about mental health, and how to identify when mental health problems need professional support.

Pro tip: Remember that managers aren’t mental help professionals, and can’t be expected to fill that role. You need to empower managers with access to support that they can rely on to get employees help when they need it.

Step 4: Take action today

Educated support is the key to mental health benefits, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Rather, it takes a whole set of keys to unlock this benefit and considering how you can champion each is the only way to open that door for good. Specifically, taking action to support mental health despite a remote or hybrid working setup means prioritising:

  • Reactive support: Suitable 1:1 support is crucial for employees who open up about mental health concerns — licenced therapy within working hours is the best way to deliver that priority.
  • Proactive support: Distributed teams are far better positioned to hide mental health difficulties. Proactive support is key in these cases, and generally includes mental health awareness training to ensure that both managers and employees recognise early warning signs.
  • Organisation-wide cultural initiatives: Company-wide initiatives, such as designated portals, access to time off, etc., all keep conversations about mental health very much at the business forefront, for understanding and awareness, at all times. Ensure you employ mental health first aiders or advisory groups too.
  • Up your training investment: Training is not free, and for good reason. Only calculated and informed training will curate the best outcomes — so you need to be prepared, and so too does the wider organisation, to invest more time and resources into your training strategy.
  • Dedicated mental health training: One of the best tools in your arsenal is mental health training, as expected. You need to devise a learning strategy that is tailored to your organisational needs and most importantly deploys hyper-engaging content.

Pro tip: You need to create at least two separate mental health learning programmes — one for employees and one for managers. The former will help individuals better understand their own mental health, and the latter will support them to create a more aware culture, carry out better mental health conversations and spot warning signs.

Suggested reading: For more information on remote mental health support, check out our blog — Working From Home and Mental Health: How Employers Can Support Their Employees Remotely

Mental health awareness is half the battle

At Video Arts, mental health awareness and training is critically important to what we deliver. That’s why we’ve produced a whole range of brand new mental health content specifically for hybrid working and learning. As an L&D content provider, we saw the important role we could play in improving the mental health conditions across businesses, and are working double-time to make that happen.

When we look at mistakes surrounding mental health in the workplace of the past, education has always been the missing piece of the puzzle. With hybrid work now the norm, this lack of understanding is at risk of seeing mental health swept under the carpet all together — and we all know how well looked after office carpets are — or not! Awareness is the only way to combat that, ensuring both precautionary measures and reactive responses as necessary.

Far from being an impossible goal, realising this understanding with a remote team is as simple as perfecting mental health training that everyone can connect with. Video Arts makes that possible with bite-sized learning that’s sure to start as many collaborative conversations as the latest Netflix release. Our sprinkles of humour and famous faces are especially fundamental for turning an uncomfortable conversation into a topic that your employees, and your management team, can’t stop gabbing about!

But don’t just take our word for it, get in touch and see if we can get a laugh out of you too!


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