21 Jul 2023

How to support employees with mental health

Mental health is everything. If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, depressed or worried it’s difficult to be at your best. If you have a diagnosed mental illness it can affect your life every day in multiple ways, and at times be devastating. It affects personal relationships, physical health, well-being – and work.

According to the World Health Organization an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety, costing $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. Deloitte estimates that for every £1 spent on mental health initiatives, businesses see a return of £5 through increased productivity.


Create a safe and open culture where it’s normal to discuss mental health issues without fear of stigma or discrimination. Psychological safety is essential for a flourishing workplace. Make it normal to ask the question ‘how are you?’ and get an honest answer.

In workplaces where we can’t be ourselves, we struggle to be our best. Remember that each employee’s needs are different, and it’s important to tailor support strategies to individual circumstances.

Ask your employees what they want and need to have good well-being. We need to ask people what makes them feel well, what the signs are that they are struggling, and what support they would need to make them get back to their best. Within therapy and recovery settings a common process is the Wellness Recovery Action Plan, or WRAP, which adds a structure to this. Encourage managers and supervisors to regularly check in with employees to discuss their well-being, workload, and any concerns they may have.

A supportive culture

One of the biggest problems with supporting people with workplace mental health is that often leaders and team members don’t know how to discuss it. As well as clear policies around accommodations and mental health days, make informal policies around taking lunch breaks and finishing on time.

Leaders should model this by not expecting replies to emails at weekends, or demanding facetime when home working might be better for an individual. Regularly assess workloads and stress levels among employees, and make adjustments as needed to prevent burnout.

Training and skills development

Offer training and workshops for employees and leaders to raise awareness about mental health, stress management, and work-life balance. Give them guidance on the signs that someone is having difficulties, or a guide on typical symptoms of mental illnesses and poor mental health, and empower them with education to take action if needed.

One of the biggest challenges to reaching out for help is people simply not recognising they’re struggling, or knowing where to go. Share resources such as self-help materials, articles, and videos related to mental health, and have safe spaces to go and relax when it all gets too much. And make it normal and acceptable for people to do so.

Be flexible

Post-pandemic hybrid working has become more common and it is clear that for business to take place employees do not have to be in the office. Hybrid working supports better mental health and removes barriers to inclusion, with research showing that employees who are able to split their working time between home and a formal workplace are 40% less likely to experience mental health difficulties. Where possible, allow flexible work schedules, telecommuting options, or part-time arrangements to help employees maintain a healthy work-life balance and manage their mental health.

It is not just about timings and locations, however. Ask people what they love working on and what makes them thrive. Seek out ways to support them with developing skills and achieving personal and professional goals. Create ways within their workload and plans for them to stretch themselves, build skillsets, and work on things that excite them.

When we’re engaged in work and enjoying ourselves it triggers the positive chemicals of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, which can be lacking when we’re run down and not doing well, whilst other people struggle to make them at all (which is why we use medication). The more we can get from our everyday life, the better. So be flexible in how you work to achieve a certain goal or target, and create ways to get there that play to people’s preferences and strengths.

Mental health should be everyone’s priority, including businesses. It’s better for people, profit and purpose.

As seen on Sustainable Growth Voices.