How to Improve Mental Health and Wellbeing at Work

Improving mental health and increasing wellbeing in the workplace was becoming an important issue.  During the Covid-19 crisis, it has become critical. During lockdown 1, reducing stress and maintaining productivity was a number one priority with the transition from the workplace to the home. Meeting the varied and challenging demands that were occurring required changes to both the format of the working day and the working processes.  Continued longer-term issues are now arising, Covid stress is moving from acute fire fighting strategies to a longer-term chronic stress pattern.

Covid-19 has meant that teams need to anticipate, strategise, plan and execute at an alarming pace in order to stay effective,  team and organisational flexibility is a priority.  A resilient workforce is important now more than ever.

This blog will outline the reasons why health and wellbeing are important in the workforce and how to improve mental health at this critical time to ensure that change is managed well. 

Stress in the workplace

Proactive strategies towards mental health issues are required to combat the longer-term issues of Covid uncertainty and stress.

The long term stress has a dramatic impact on organisational productivity, profitability, and the way organisations work with teams will have an effect on their company brand profile for years to come.

In sectors wanting to attract and retain their best staff, creating an innovative and solution-based workforce, investment in proactive employee wellbeing is essential, it increases organisational profitability and longevity.


Why are health and wellbeing important at work?

Work-related mental health problems are primarily caused by increased pressure and workload, and the feeling of lack of support, which during the current crisis have become overwhelming for team members and line managers working to keep morale and communication open. 

Changes in work procedures, processes, are creating strains within team management as new innovative ways of communicating is being rolled out, this is resulting in organisational deliverability and productivity issues.


What creates stress in the workplace?

Prior to Covid-19 workplace stressors have been well documented, the major causes cited for stress in the workplace is created by:

  • Workload volume – the amount of work is stated as the main reason employees go off sick, this is combined with the lack of communication and understanding of the priority of the demands.  Placing high demands upon an individual in their role with too much responsibility creates the biggest reason for stress as cited by employees. Managers have a responsibility to regulate and create the right working environment and monitoring the demands set on their teams.
  • Lack of Control – employees that lack control in the working role, is documented as the key ingredient to stress.  Organisational communication that offers little in two way, open communication will mean that employees feel that they have little control and will become lethargic and disengaged.

Conversely, if employees feel that they have a meaningful contribution in the direction of the organisation then stress is alleviated.

  • Lack of Support – unsupported or isolated, lone workers at home often feels stress.  Little direct or effective communication over time leads to increased alienation, especially in industries where the layers of management have been removed.  Working remotely employees have recording feeling vulnerable and insecure and Covid-19 wellbeing action plans have raised the necessity for organisations to itemise how much they contact employees and identifying who needs more support.

What creates stress in the workplace?

  • Difficult Work relationships – feeling part of the whole and being part of the solution is essential for engagement and promoting positive working relationships.  The physical bonds formed in the workplace are now missing; new working procedures are being introduced and management roles are being re-defined.  Communicating this throughout the organisation is critical.
  • New working roles, navigating new acceptable behaviour on zoom, ethical conduct, and communicating out of hours are affecting the balance of work relationships. For example, organisations that adhere to a strict 9-5 working policy without any consideration to personal home environments will lose valuable employees.
  • Employee/Management roles – roles are changing dramatically as teams are changing their regular business functions to deal with Covid-19 issues.   This level of change and the ongoing pressure is, in the longer-term creating emotional exhaustion, health issues, withdrawal, and counterproductive work behaviour.
  • Management Change – how line managers deal with the effect of the change is vital. A sympathetic, nurturing line manager will mean employees will do their best work during the crisis but they will also require time to regroup afterwards.

During the pandemic some of the concerns voiced by managers and team members have included:

“My organization had to redeploy my team to another area of the business which has meant that I am in a brand new role.”

“I have never worked virtually before and I’m now managing a remote team.” 

I have had new responsibilities added to my plate because we are short-staffed but I don’t have experience with these tasks.”

“My company is cross-training us on different roles in case a colleague gets sick or everyone can’t come in at the same time.”

The biggest issues for staff as outlined by HR professionals survey recently:

      • Teams are overwhelmed with new ways of working and supporting new roles
      • Trapped budget – changes need to be made dramatically but the budgets are set once a year, therefore there is no room to adapt quickly
      • Processes are not quick enough to respond, too rigid
      • Work processes are having to be created quickly

If the longer-term effect of the stress is not recognised then the issue of burnout is raised.

Burnout because of long term stress build-up following Covid-19

Chronic long-term stress affects the whole body, as well as affecting the way individuals feel, think and behave.  Over a prolonged time, this creates burnout.  Burnout in the workplace is characterised by:

      • lack of energy,
      • exhaustion
      • extreme tiredness,
      • mental fatigue.
      • unable to concentrate,
      • increases emotional responses,
      • cognitive distance from one’s job.

Burnout among key performers because of the long term stress build-up Covid-19 is an issue.

And using inappropriate coping strategies will make burnout risks worse as will the uncertainty and fear around returning to the workplace.

The costs of mental health problems

Prior to the Covid-19 response, the HSE UK health and Safety Executive reported in 2017 that 12.5m days lost absence caused stress, anxiety, and depression

Mental ill health in the workplace costs UK businesses £45 billion a year over half of this amounts comes from rising cost of leaveism and presenteeism.

The increase in annual costs to employers, of up to £45 billion from poor mental health in the workplace is due to the significant increase in:

  • Presenteeism – working when unwell and being less productive
  • Leaveism – improper use of leave particular relevant to Millennial and Gen Z generations

Over half of the £45 billion cost comes from presenteeism (up to £29 billion) – when individuals are less productive due to poor mental health at work and further additional costs to the organisation come from sickness absence and as a result staff turnover.

The wider issue comes when an employee leaving through mental ill-health blames the organisation and leads to a damaging portrayal of the organisation.  This creates a domino effect when the company wants to attract new talent.

Lack of staff investment no longer goes unnoticed in the workplace.

Download my latest White Paper: How much is stress in the Workplace costing The paper discusses the impact of Covid-19 along with the mental health issues that organisations can foresee which will take a huge amount of managerial time, leading to lost productivity and stress, as well as increased absenteeism.

Download a copy here 

White Paper: how much is stress in the workplace costing?


How to improve mental wellbeing at work

How can organisations move forward and improve mental wellbeing at work?

A key part of the solution is effective communication and who and how the Covid-19 changes will impact employees –  bringing the workforce along with these changes allows them to feel part of the solution.

As organisations become more insight‑driven, they start to collect data to identify the drivers of poor employee mental health and address those issues through targeted interventions.

Interventions can be implemented in various ways for instance a simple 7 stage programme could look like this:

    • Workplace physical activity programmes.
    • Coaching and mentoring.
    • Mental health first aid and education.
    • Resilience training.
    • Well-being programmes.
    • EAP medical Well‑being checks or health screenings.
    • Encouraging employee involvement

In a period of uncertainty and rapid change, organisations need a resilient workforce who are able to upskill to changing requirements.

How to promote health and wellbeing at work

Legislation in 2017 requires that employers support mental health and most organisations have MHFAs, together with medical support in the form of EPAs where colleagues can be signposted.

As well as having mental health roadmaps in place, a culture of compassion and leadership that is open to recognising and discussing mental health will help create a safe working environment.

Encouraging courageous conversations around a wellbeing programme is the direct and most effective way to support colleagues in the first instance.

As a Resilience Workplace trainer, I use the ABC rule of engagement:

  • Acknowledge and have the conversation
  • Build upon the conversation and work on delivering an outcome, don’t just brush it under the carpet
  • Create – encourage the employee to create a personal wellbeing plan

1. Acknowledge

Managers often cite that they feel uncertain and uncomfortable in having mental health conversations – but the advice is to have the conversation and engage anyway.

Managers can mitigate the feelings of discomfort by having a structure and a plan for example:

  • Choose appropriate time and place,
  • Let the employee know how much time available
  • Outline that the conversation is confidential, don’t make assumptions
  • Encourage the other person to talk, let them explain
  • Be careful not to offer a solution, give the individual space to consider their own journey and path
  • Remain positive and reassure them

2. Build positive relationships with others

  • Working supportively and cooperation support own wellbeing
  • Welcome to new members, share the knowledge, common ground, volunteer together, play chess, knit Time back and employee volunteering
  • Mentoring – mutually discuss feeling about work
  • Steer clear of moaners and gossips who will drain your energy, misery, criticism, complaining can overwhelm you – limit your time with them and re-energise afterwards

3. Create – Encourage employees to create a Wellness Action Plan (WAP)

  • What situations can cause stress at work
  • What can you do for yourself to help manage stress at work?
  • What your manager can do to proactively support your wellbeing

How do organisations create a wellbeing programme?

Framing these conversations around a wellbeing programme is important, a programme creates a framework that is widely communicated and discussed within the organisation.

Different levels of leadership are being affected by stress in different ways for example the top leadership team will feel more alienation whilst middle managers are not feeling supported or supervised.

It is often hard for line managers to initiate and then build upon the conversation but the structure of a wellbeing programme, it makes conversations easier.

An organisational culture of openness and inclusivity is important to the implementation of a wellbeing plan and as outlined at the beginning of the blog, it pays financial dividends.

A wellbeing trainer will save time – a specialist will create longer-term cost savings, by getting to the heart of the problem quickly.  An external supplier is seen by employees as a safe space, and will more readily deal with a mental health problem before it becomes a crisis.

Next steps

The best way forward is to book a call with me, Adele Stickland and together we can discover what stage your organisation is currently at, and how you can best implement the most proactive strategy that will serve your employees.

If you or your organisation would like assistance in creating or developing an existing wellbeing programme to frame conversations and support managers and employees then:

White Paper: How much is mental ill-health in the workplace costing?

Download my latest White Paper: How much is stress in the Workplace costing The paper discusses the impact of Covid-19 along with the mental health issues that organisations can foresee which will take a huge amount of managerial time, leading to lost productivity and stress, as well as increased absenteeism.

Download a free copy White Paper: How much is mental ill-health in the workplace costing? Click here 

For a more detailed analysis of the 6 levels to resilience read more here: How to build resilience in Workplace

Picture of Adele Stickland

Adele Stickland

Business Psychologist & ICF Accredited Coach | Expert in Team Dynamics & Communication Working with organisations to improve team dynamics and psychological safety by creating collaborative & productive teams. An MSc in organisational psychology and awards in education and training enable me to combine evidence-based approaches & tools to support individuals and groups in professional & personal development #Highperformanceteams #Millennialworkforce #Leadershipdevelopment #Employeeretentionstrategies #Millennialjobhopping #Managingmillennials #Teamengagement #Workforcemobility #Professionalgrowthandmentoring #Organisationalculturemillennials

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