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8 simple and inspiring mental health initiatives to improve your workplace today

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A healthier workplace is a better workplace. While there’s still a lot to do in terms of mental wellbeing, there used to be a time when mental health couldn’t even be remotely approached and only talking about it would make you appear like a liability to your employer. Fortunately, things are starting to change – and some employers are already leading by example in terms of mental health.

Whether you are an employee, a manager or a director looking to learn about the current status of mental health in the industry, the initiatives below can help you move in the right direction to improve your leadership team or find the best role for you. Here are 8 of the best mental health initiatives by employers that any workplace should adopt starting today. Well, ideally.

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Image credit: Natalia Maca

Support national awareness days and months

Change begins from small things and in very tiny increments. Showing solidarity and coming up with special initiatives for national occasions can truly boost the morale in the team. Are you entering Mental Health Awareness Month in May? Set up some initiatives, meetings, a full day off the week, rewards, games, gifts and bonuses to show your true commitment to mental health. Maybe have a day off on Mental Health Awareness Day, which coincidentally falls in October (the 10th).

Just remember that support is for the entire year, not just a month or a day. If you are truly committed to change, these occasions can help you go the extra mile – but your mental health support should be top notch at all times, every day, throughout the entire year.

Set up mental health resources for employees

Many companies offer benefits that go beyond tokenised perks to help mental health. Future PLC knows that working for the company can get stressful, so they offer unlimited paid leave – to be approved, of course. Confidential support for the employee’s mental health should be standard too. Any employee should feel like they can talk about their issues at any given time, and seen that some people prefer to keep things to themselves, managers should feel encouraged to prod them in the right direction from time to time.

One good way to do this would be to introduce “How are you?” As the very first question in every single meeting, formal or informal, and especially in reviews. It must not be a tokenised way of dealing with mental health; genuine concern and interest are required. Other businesses may offer free online GP, an online health portal, and even physical benefits such as water bottles to help with water intake, reusable cups and straws, fitness equipment and more.

Think of benefits that truly, sincerely help reduce stress and contribute to wellbeing, and you’ll be on the right track to a better mental health for all your team.

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Image credit: Conker Design

Mental Health training for managers

An increasing number of managers are taking active steps to receive a Mental Health First Aider certification. The latest I heard about was Andrew Riddle, from RAPP. According to Andrew, “With hybrid practices starting to kick in for many companies, the ‘new’ world of working structure is now being realised and requires management with huge care and attention. Empathy, which requires action, is now more important than ever.”

I couldn’t agree more. Mental Health First Aid is an excellent place to start, and ideally all managers should aspire to build a more empathic, human, authentic workplace. Wellbeing should be embraced in all forms, from mindfulness to flexible working and work-life balance. Managers should be trained to listen, understand and help employees with their needs, within reason of course.

There are a number of places offering courses in mental health first aid, but if you want to go straight to the source, MHFA England is a great place to start. Just talk to your boss, book a course and get started.

Flexible working

My hope is that this will sound quite unoriginal by now. Unfortunately there are still a number of businesses and employers out there who wouldn’t fully understand the need to allow for more flexible working.

As we are all moving towards a hybrid workforce, employers should feel compelled to listen to each employee’s needs and try to accommodate those as much as is reasonably possible. If the business can afford it, employers should start testing a 4-day work week, just like it recently happened in Iceland, to ensure employees can have a bit more time to focus on the things that matter the most. There’s work and there’s life, as Don Draper would say.

This also means going above and beyond in terms of employee benefits and time off. Parental leave should be extended to cover new fathers as well, and it could be extended beyond what’s already in place at the company. Flexible vacation and an offering for long periods of paid time off should at least be on the table for discussion. As a rule of thumb, if there’s room for you to wonder if you should extend paid time off, there probably is something you can do.

In-house programmes on mental health

Employers will find whatever is most suitable to their business needs, but there are a number of programmes that can be adopted as soon as today to improve the overall wellbeing of your employees. Among them, physical activity programmes are certainly at the top of the list. You’re as healthy as the amount of exercise you’re getting, after all, and many people would be happy to start a similar programme with their colleagues. Beyond the realm of work-out, however, there is still so much an employer could do.

It is proven that volunteering and giving back helps with mental health. Employers could incentivise their teams to take on volunteering opportunities, for instance. There is also space to organise games, pub Fridays and more to truly help with team bonding. One interesting trend that you can see today is the one of Walking Meetings – which are literally what you think they are. People go on a walk, and as they do, they have an informal meeting. That helps with your mental health and physical health all at once, as well as with taking off some of the stress of a work environment from your surroundings.

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Image credit: Ben The Illustrator

Mandatory lunch breaks

I lost count of how many lunch breaks I skipped because of work. It’s not that I was required to; it was entirely my choice. But because of this, many employees may act the same way in an over-abundant expression of loyalty. Taking a break from work is fundamental to help with stress and productivity. So why not make it mandatory?

Make it so that employees cannot skip their lunch breaks if they wanted to, but make sure to allow for some flexibility at the same time. You don’t want to make the mistake of retail, taking away freedom from your employees by setting up a fixed time for lunch – though it can be fun for the entire office to storm off all together, every once in a while. Make the employee feel like they are obliged to take a lunch break, or go home early. Over time, it will become second nature to them.

If you can, why not offer your employees lunch every once in a while? It helps them perceive you as an approachable leader, it helps the team bond over some lightheartedness, and it hugely boosts morale, even in the most stressful of times.

Employee Recognition Programmes

We are creatives. We know how to be playful. Why not demonstrate that with an Employee Recognition Programme? This can be a simple Employee-of-the-Month kind of thing, but it can also be way more creative. Surely, there is a risk of cultivating some unhealthy competition in the team – but the best way to avoid that is by making rewards a bit more trivial. Offer a lunch, drink or beer as a reward, make a shoutout on social media, schedule a Thank-You meeting – anything at all will make that specific employee happier to be with you.

You could also have a read at some gamification programmes to help you get inspired. Humans love play, but creatives can do so even more. If you set up a gamified system of rewards in your company, your employees will have fun too while working. There are plenty of ideas out there you can draw inspiration from. About that, watch this space; I’ll certainly write something up in the next few weeks on the topic.

That said, promotions, raises and bonuses should not be off the table. If an employee performs well above and beyond expectations, they should be rewarded for that. This will encourage them to do even better, it will keep them loyal to your company ethos, and most importantly, it will stimulate other employees to strive for excellence too. Just make sure to cultivate a healthy environment in the process. Which brings me to the final point.

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Image credit: Kasia Kozakiewicz

Foster a healthy environment

This is by far, without a doubt, the most important thing you can do starting today. The best way to improve mental health is to foster a healthy environment. This doesn’t mean to flaunter quirky company benefits which don’t really go anywhere, or to claim your salary is the most competitive in the industry; it means going above and beyond to eliminate toxicity from your workplace.

If you’re extremely lucky, there won’t be any and your office will be the most ideal place on earth. If you’re like most businesses out there, there will be at least some problems to deal with. In the most extreme cases, sexual harassment, discrimination and workplace violence can all make an appearance, but the most unspoken form of toxicity is retaliation. You should always, at all costs, condemn retaliation against any employee.

If it’s true that mental health starts from the space we live in, you should have plenty of natural light and plantsto spruce up the place. Bit challenging to do the former in the UK, I’m aware – but it can be done. Studies have extensively demonstrated that natural light and greenery can hugely improve an employee’s mental wellbeing. Read up on the topic to find the best options for you and start working on your office spaces today.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the impact of food, lifestyle and communication. Offer healthy snacks if you can, ranging from nuts to fruit and other positive alternatives during lunch breaks, and remember to advocate for a sustainable lifestyle of your employees at all times. This means good recycling practices, as little waste as possible, and doing every necessary step to ensure you’re leaving the planet better than when you found it.

There’s a lot on this list that could be actioned as soon as today. It’s up to you to choose one, several or all of the initiatives discussed above to improve the mental wellbeing of your team. Just remember to keep an open mind and open communication at all times. Showing empathy is the first and most fundamental step to break the stigma around mental health.

We’re all humans after all, and life’s too short to spend it burning out with stress. Be yourself, and teach your employees to do the same. The workplace of the future will be a better place for it.

Header image: Natalia Maca

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