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Promoting positive mental health in the workplace

Mental ill health costs employers in the UK £30 billion every year through lost production, recruitment and absence.

Promoting positive mental health in your workplace can therefore be hugely beneficial. Staff with good mental health are more likely to perform well, have good attendance levels and be engaged in their work.

Additionally, taking steps to better support the mental health of staff can help to reduce the severity, duration and quantity of mental ill health in the workplace.

For a detailed step by step guide on what to do, read the Acas guide on pdf icon Promoting positive mental health in the workplace [554kb].

Understand mental health

There is still a lack of understanding about mental health and misperceptions persist. It is often thought to be a sign of weakness, which it is not. A better understanding of mental health at work is therefore important because:

  • mental ill health is very common - the Government's Department of Health advises that one in four of us will experience it at some point in our lives
  • staff with positive mental health are more likely to work productively, interact well with colleagues and adapt to changes in the workplace
  • staff supported by their employer are more likely to be able to stay in work or return to work after a period of absence, reducing long-term absences in the organisation
  • staff who feel unable to talk to their manager may attend work when they are too ill to safely carry out their duties, which could be a health and safety risk
  • if mental ill health is not treated, the pressures of it can cause other 'secondary symptoms'. For example, the strain of coping with depression may cause someone to become dependent on alcohol or drugs.

Commit to improve mental health at work

It can take time to change an organisation's workplace culture. An employer should therefore publicise its commitment to promoting positive mental health across the organisation. Doing this can help to start normalising the subject and encourage staff to talk to their manager (and their colleagues) about their mental health.

Alongside this, an employer should develop an action plan for how it will promote positive mental health. This may include:

  • identifying why the organisation is committed to promoting positive mental health and what the objectives of the organisation are
  • planning a range of activities and key messages to educate staff and managers and remove any stigma associated with mental ill health.
  • putting support processes in place for staff experiencing mental ill health. For example, training managers in mental health and having named mental health champions in the workplace who can be approached if the employee does not want to talk their manager 
  • creating a mental health policy and reviewing existing policies to ensure managers and staff know where to go for support and further information when required
  • ensuring that senior managers champion mental health awareness and act as role models to encourage healthy behaviours. For example, always having lunch away from their desk or work area can encourage staff to do so as well. 

Take steps to improve the workplace

It is important to identify what areas of the workplace might be a cause of mental ill health. Gathering information on staff turnover, sickness absence and performance can be a good starting point.

Staff should also be involved as they will be aware of what the organisation does well and what needs to improve. In larger organisations, this might be done through team meetings or an employee survey. In smaller organisations, the owner may simply talk to staff on a one-to-one basis to get their thoughts.

If you are interested to know how other organisations have approached improving their workplace, Acas has a report and several case studies that you can download:

Educate the workforce about mental health

To successfully promote positive mental health, managers and staff may need to become more informed about mental health in general and what support is available if they or a member of their team experience mental ill health.

Training managers in how to spot mental ill health and manage someone experiencing mental ill health can be invaluable. Providing them with the confidence to approach matters that concern them and helping them to support their team in the best way possible.

There is further guidance on Managing staff experiencing mental ill health.

Acas also offers training courses for HR professionals and anyone with management responsibilities on mental health awareness.

Staff will often benefit from receiving training on mental health that includes:

  • what staff can do to improve and maintain positive mental health. For example, fun or productive out-of-work activities
  • standards of behaviour expected of all staff, and how unacceptable conduct will be dealt with
  • spotting the signs that they or someone they know may be experiencing mental ill health
  • who they can go to if they need advice or support.

Ideally, training should be conducted by a senior manager, HR professional or an external trainer who is trained and experienced in dealing with mental ill health.

Know where to go for further support

Employers and managers should not be expected to be experts in mental health. However they should know where they and their team can go for further support internally (such as mental health champions, mental health first aiders etc.) and externally.

  • Access to work - - can provide advice and an assessment of workplace needs for individuals, with disabilities or long-term health conditions, who are already in work or about to start. Grants may also be available to help cover the cost of workplace adaptations.
  • Business in the Community - - is a network that provides toolkits on Mental Health, Suicide prevention and Suicide postvention to help employers support the mental health and wellbeing of employees.
  • Mind - - is a leading mental health charity in England and Wales. It provides information and support on how to improve mental health.
  • Mindful Employer - - is a UK-wide, NHS initiative. It is aimed at increasing awareness of mental health at work and providing support for businesses when recruiting and retaining staff.
  • NHS choices - - has a website that offers information and practical advice for anyone experiencing mental ill health.
  • Remploy - - offers a free and confidential Workplace Mental Health Support Service for anyone absent from work or finding work difficult because of a mental health condition. It aims to help people remain in, or return to, their role.
  • Rethink Mental Illness - - is a voluntary sector provider of mental health services offering support groups, advice and information on mental health and problems.