How to look after employee mental health


Mental ill health is a major cause of long-term absence from work. It can also severely hamper your employees’ ability to do their jobs properly, and create difficulties for you in retaining staff.
Along with taking out suitable insurance for commercial businesses, boosting workplace well-being is one of the most important things you can do to protect your employees and your business.
So what do you need to know about mental health in the UK, what are your obligations as an employer, and what action can you take to improve wellness in your workplace? Read on for our guide.

Mental health: the picture in the UK

It’s estimated that at least one in four people will suffer mental ill health at some point in their lives. Many put the figure far higher: one survey found that 41% had experienced mental health symptoms that were caused or worsened by work in the last year alone.
Conditions such as depression and anxiety are commonplace, yet have a significant impact on people’s lives and capacity to work. Long-term conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia also affect many people, and require careful management both at home and in the workplace.
While the causes are complex, some conditions can be linked to the working environment. One common issue is stress. Research from mental health charity Mind shows how widespread and serious the issue of workplace stress is.

More than one in five survey respondents said they had called in sick due to workplace stress, 14% had resigned, and a whopping 42% had considered doing so. A shocking 30% of staff said they would not feel able to talk openly with their line manager about stress.
Yet most employers want to do the right thing by their staff, with 56% saying they would like to do more to improve staff well-being, but lack training or guidance.

Who is at risk?

Everyone! It’s important to recognise that poor mental health isn’t a sign of weakness: it’s something that can affect anyone at any time.
That said, there are certain factors that can increase the risk, and many of them are linked to the working environment. Staff who are trying to juggle work with caring responsibilities can suffer stress, as can those with financial worries or debts.
Shift working disrupts sleep patterns and family and social life, which has a negative impact on emotional well-being. Lone and remote working can also leave people feeling isolated and lacking in support from their colleagues.
People who are especially at risk include those who are LGBTQI+ or from ethnic minorities. You should also pay attention to older and younger workers, and those with disabilities.
And the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened matters, with many people isolated from their usual support networks and facing fears about their health, their loved ones, and their job security.
A group of office workers talking and taking notes around a table

Your duties as an employer

Even though many employees will suffer a period of mental ill health in their working lives, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says that discrimination is still rife. And it could be illegal.
People with mental health conditions which have a long-term and substantial effect on their ability to carry out everyday tasks may qualify for protection under the disability discrimination provisions of the Equality Act 2010. That means that you as an employer are obliged to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate their needs.
Even if an employee’s condition does not qualify as a disability, it’s still good employment practice to do what you can to support them in their role. So as a responsible and well-intentioned employer, what action can you take to improve emotional well-being among your workforce?

Your mental health action plan

It’s a complex topic, so to draw up a detailed plan, you should follow ISO 45003: the first global standard that gives practical guidance on managing psychological health at work. If you’re a small business in the UK, you might even qualify to access the standard for free for a limited time.
ISO 45003 integrates with the existing ISO 45001 in Occupational Health and Safety. It includes vital info on recognising psychosocial hazards that can affect your staff, including those that arise from remote working; plus examples of effective yet often simple actions you can take to manage these.
You’ll also find great resources at the Mental Health at Work website, curated by Mind. This initiative, backed by many big names in the world of work, invites employers to sign a commitment to abide by six standards.
Below, we’ve put together a brief guide to those standards to help you draw up a coherent plan for your business. They’re followed by a list of quick wins: simple yet effective action you can take straight away to start making a big difference.

1. Prioritise mental health in the workplace through a structured programme of activity

You need to design and implement a mental health at work plan, and ensure it’s embedded in your activities.
To do so, your senior management team will need to lead from the top, reporting to the board and being held accountable by it.
It’s vital you seek employee engagement at all times, particularly from those experiencing mental health issues. And you’ll have to monitor employee mental health and well-being, too.

2. Proactively ensure work design and organisational culture drive positive mental health

Start by providing employees with good physical workplace conditions. Cramped, dingy or otherwise unpleasant workplaces do nothing to foster emotional well-being, and can worsen people’s mental state.
Job and work design and conditions might also need an overhaul. Do you have an ‘always-on’ culture, or do you take work-life balance into account? Allowing staff to work flexibly can be a huge boost to mental health – and help you recruit and retain talent, too.
Remember: it’s essential that you provide a safe workplace for your employees and contractors. If they suffer an injury or illness because of their work for you, they could claim compensation against your business. Employer’s liability cover, often included in your commercial insurance package, protects your business in the event of such claims – and is also a legal requirement.

3. Promote an open culture around mental health

What’s it like in your workplace for an employee experiencing a period of stress, depression, or other mental health problem? Are they ashamed? Do they try to hide their feelings? Or are they encouraged to speak up, and given support to adapt and recover?
You need to lead the way on challenging mental health stigma in your workplace, encouraging conversations about the issues, highlighting support available, and empowering employees or volunteers to become mental health champions.
A diverse group of people smiling on a grid with a person on each tile

4. Increase organisational confidence and capability

As mentioned above, many employers are eager to make changes – but unsure of what action to take. So how do you increase ‘mental health literacy’ among your staff?
Training is vital. Line managers in particular need to learn how to spot when a team member is experiencing problems, and offer them the right, targeted support. They should also consider mental health when conducting inductions and meetings, such as one-to-ones.
Staff should be educated in having effective conversations about mental health so they can support their colleagues and signpost them to support.
People at all levels of your organisation have a role to play.

5. Provide mental health tools and support

Help is at hand for people experiencing mental health issues – but not everyone’s aware of what’s out there.
So signpost people to support from their GP, charities such as Mind, and online wellness and relaxation programmes. If they have specific worries, such as debt, then help them access relevant advice lines.
Even better, perhaps your business could provide an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)? These are run by various service providers, and offer confidential support to workers, often through online services.
The price is often surprisingly low – and far cheaper than the potential cost to your business of employee ill health.
Remember: even the most careful and concerned employer is legally required to have employer’s liability insurance, which can be included in a commercial insurance package.

6. Increase transparency and accountability

Finally, you need to identify and track key mental health measures, and report on them both internally and externally.
You might think it’s impossible to monitor mental health: after all, it’s not like sales figures! But you can try a framework such as Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index.
This will help you identify areas of weakness, so that you can see where your focus for improvement should be. It will also demonstrate to your staff – and potential recruits – that you take these issues seriously, and are determined to do something about them.

Mental health in the workplace: our top 10 tips

The above six suggestions should help you think clearly about some underlying principles for a healthy workplace. Now what about some actions you can easily take?
1. Lead from the top. Make it clear that you don’t answer emails in the early hours, and nor should your workers. Leave on time except in emergencies.
2. Look out for frontline staff. People in customer-facing roles might think they’re expected just to put up with abuse from customers. Let them know you’re there for them and provide extra support if necessary. Remember to follow up after any incidents: a worker might feel fine in the immediate aftermath of dealing with an aggressive customer, then start suffering flashbacks a week later.
3. Don’t forget the backroom staff. Just because somebody’s job looks trouble-free, doesn’t mean they’re not vulnerable to mental health issues. Make sure they know that you don’t judge them.
4. Train mentors. For new staff especially, a sympathetic and experienced guide can make all the difference.
5. Offer flexibility. Part-time hours (perhaps on a temporary basis), job-shares, adjusted working patterns or working from home can make a huge difference, particularly – but not exclusively – to those juggling jobs with caring responsibilities.
6. Improve your premises. Could your office, workshop, salon or other workplace be lighter? Airier? Less cramped? While you may not have the budget to make radical changes, even some small adjustments can make a huge difference. A lick of paint, new office chairs, and some plants show your employees that you care about where they spend their working hours.
7. Adjust working conditions. If somebody is stressed or anxious, small changes can have a hugely positive effect. Can you offer them a quieter working space, or alter their job description slightly? Could you ask their colleagues to pitch in and help at busy times?
8. Listen. Don’t wait for crises to erupt. By holding general chats with your staff, you’ll get to know more about what makes them tick – and make it easier for them to open up to you about problems at an early stage.
9. Remember the link between mental and physical health. Encourage your staff to take lunch breaks, giving them a chance to eat a healthy meal and stretch their legs. If you have vending machines at work, perhaps you could make sure they include some healthy snacks.
10. Don’t forget yourself. As a senior business professional, you might well thrive on a certain amount of adrenaline. But it’s a hugely pressurised role. So delegate where possible, take regular holidays, and eat and exercise well.  And don’t forget to take out suitable commercial insurance to protect your business.

Get a quote from Insurance Choice Commercial today

At Insurance Choice Commercial, we know what pressures business people are under. That’s why we want to take some of the strain by providing you with a smooth experience when it comes to picking your commercial insurance.
We’ve been specialists in arranging policies for over 20 years, finding packages that are tailored to your business needs. We can also offer flexible payment solutions, such as spreading the costs over monthly instalments.
We can arrange cover for buildings and contents, business interruption, employer’s and public liability, stock and equipment, and much more. Get a quick quote for commercial insurance today.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.


Frequently asked questions


What to do if an employee has mental health issues?

The first step is to create a safe and open environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health concerns. Employers should also educate themselves about mental health issues and learn to recognise the signs and symptoms. Encouraging employees to seek professional help and providing access to mental health resources can also be beneficial. Ultimately, the goal is to create a workplace culture that promotes mental wellness and supports employees in their journey towards recovery.


How can I reduce stress and pressure on an employee?

One way to reduce stress and pressure on an employee is by promoting a healthy work-life balance. Encourage your employees to take breaks, disconnect from work when they are off duty, and prioritise self-care. Additionally, providing clear communication and expectations can help alleviate stress. Make sure employees are aware of their responsibilities and have the necessary resources and support to fulfil them. Offering opportunities for professional development and growth can also reduce stress by empowering employees and giving them a sense of purpose.


How do you manage performance of an employee dealing with mental health?

It is important to remember that mental health issues are just as valid as physical health issues and should be treated with the same level of importance. Firstly, it is essential to create a supportive and inclusive work environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health concerns. Regular check-ins with the employee can help identify any challenges they may be facing and offer necessary support. Additionally, providing flexibility in their workload or schedule can help accommodate their needs.


What initiatives can I promote within my business to raise awareness of mental health?

First and foremost, implementing employee assistance programs can be highly effective. These programs provide confidential counselling services and resources to help employees cope with personal and work-related challenges. Additionally, organising mental health workshops and seminars can educate staff on the importance of self-care and stress management techniques. Encouraging open communication and creating a supportive work culture are also crucial steps towards promoting mental health awareness.


Should I give my employee mental health days?

While sick days are often granted for physical ailments, the concept of mental health days is gaining recognition and importance. Giving your employees the option to take a mental health day can have numerous benefits, not only for their well-being but also for their productivity and overall job satisfaction. Taking a day off to recharge and focus on their mental health can help reduce stress, prevent burnout, and improve their overall mental resilience.


How do I deal with poor performance of an employee suffering with mental health issues?

Dealing with the poor performance of an employee who is also suffering from mental health issues can be a delicate situation. Start by having an open and honest conversation with the employee, expressing your concerns about their performance and offering support. Be prepared to listen actively and offer any necessary accommodations or resources that could assist them in managing their mental health. It's essential to create a safe and non-judgemental environment where the employee feels comfortable discussing their challenges.