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Starting a proactive mental health strategy

We know what it’s like leading on mental health initiatives within the workplace and that it can feel like a bit of a minefield. 

A few years ago, mental health was something that wasn’t even spoken about. 

Then, it became a conversation that businesses knew they needed to address but for the most part, it could be done quietly through health insurance providers. 

Now, almost out of nowhere, the conversation around making mental health proactive and preventative has exploded.

Employees are now very much asking “what will my business do to look after my mental health, even if I feel great?”

With numerous reports in the media about the impact of mental health on business performance and the pressure from senior leaders and employees to “get it right”, we know that those leading on mental health within their business have quite the strain placed on them.

The thing is, there’s no one set blueprint yet for how this whole mental health thing works. 

Everyone is looking at everyone else asking “how do we do this then?”

That being said, there are enough studies out there now for companies to begin to form a strategy. Deloitte’s recent report made a compelling case for offering proactive support, as it found that for every £1 invested in proactive and preventative mental health support, businesses will see an average of £5 returned.

But if you’re not sure how or where to get started, then we’re here to hopefully offer a little guidance on how to make mental health proactive and preventative in your workplace. 

The responsibility of HR with mental health at work 

We’ve spent a few years talking to a fair few people who lead on mental health initiatives within their businesses, and we know how much pressure and responsibility comes packaged with mental health.

“I’m worried I’ll get it wrong”

“I feel a bit helpless and am worried staff will be signed-off”

“What if no-one uses these services?”

“I’m stressed and confused about what the right thing is to do”

“How do I know if employees are just taking the piss?”

We hear this a lot, and even when we don’t hear it, we know this is probably the inner monologue that runs through your head like a train stuck on a loop.

On the flip side of that, we know exactly what you’re trying to achieve, no matter how hard it feels to get there.

We know you want to feel different and to have a solution that works.

We know that you want to bring about real cultural change.

To make sure that employees are getting the support that they truly need and don’t need to be signed off because of stress or burnout. 

And, more than anything, you just want a happy workforce who genuinely want to come into work each day.

Often though, senior leadership buy-in and stigma stands in the way of this.

And while there’s no silver bullet cure or quick fix for this, there are some steps you can take to get started.

Starting a proactive mental health strategy

Your oxygen mask first

There’s a reason flight attendants tell people to put on their own oxygen masks before helping anyone else.

You can’t care for others if you aren’t caring for yourself. 

It may sound trivial, but those who lead on mental health initiatives often operate in a silo, taking on an incredible burden sometimes without much support.

You do it for “the good of the people”, but remember – you’re human too.

Start by telling someone how you feel leading on mental health within the workplace. 

How are you finding it? What are you struggling with? What could you use support on? 

How do you genuinely feel about it? Maybe it’s inspired, motivated, overwhelmed, stressed or a combination of all of the above.

But it’s important that you voice where you’re at. 

If you can do this to a senior leader, even better.

Building the business case for mental health

I won’t write a “how to get senior leadership buy-in!” guide, because we all know there’s no simple 4-step plan to achieve it and that different leaders are at different stages. 

But, I can offer some pointers from what I’ve seen work in the past. 

There are two parts to a business case you can build. 

First, use the research and reports that already exist out in the public.

As mentioned, Deloitte’s recent report that shows an ROI of 5:1 is a convincing argument. That, alongside the stat that the cost per employee for poor mental health is £2277 in London, and more around £1500 per employee throughout the rest of the UK.

Pretty compelling, huh? 

But, you also want to bring things a little closer to home too. 

While most people leading on mental health initiatives want to push on forward with them simply because it’s the right thing to do, you might need to talk a bit of a different language when chatting to senior leaders.

Can you relate those numbers back to your business in some way?

For example…if you’re a 400-person business based in London, then the cost for your organisation of poor mental health is £910,800 per year!

What are your retention rates like? The UK average turnover rate is 15%…are you below, or above that? 

It costs, on average, £30,000 to replace an employee…so if you’re above those retention rates, work out the cost to your business. 

What are people saying in job interviews, or exit interviews, about your benefits package? 

Are people taking a lot of sick days? 

Do you have an employee engagement survey that’s scoring low? 

Can you link mental health to performance or personal development in some way? Are people not performing at the level you know they can because of their mental health? 

If you can find any qualitative or quantitative data or feedback on these areas, then you’re on your way to building a pretty strong business case for the need for mental health investment. 

If not, maybe looking at bringing in an employee engagement survey would be beneficial to help you start gathering some data (more on this below).

Some useful services

Here’s a list of people that are operating in the mental health, wellbeing or employee engagement space that may be able to help you on your journey:

Sanctus (of course), Unmind, Calm, Headspace, Spill, Peakon, OfficeVibe, MHFA England, Self Space, Culture Amp, Perkbox

You may also find our Directory useful – it contains a list of free and paid services for people’s mental health.