As staff wellbeing rises up the agenda for UK employers, there has been a particular focus on raising awareness about mental health in the workplace.

Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at charity Mind, said: ‘Employers have a vital role in raising awareness of mental health among staff. After all, we all have mental health, just as we all have physical health.’

‘It’s not just important for employers to support staff with a diagnosed mental health problem; implementing wellbeing initiatives will benefit all employees.’

Employers are highlighting mental health through a range of wellbeing initiatives, staff education and on-site workshops.

Last month, Anglian Water launched a health and wellbeing campaign to educate staff about what they can do if they are suffering from mental health problems, if a family member is suffering, or if they notice a change in a colleague’s behaviour.

Anglian’s Get Advice campaign includes a video published on the organisation’s intranet, which includes thoughts from medical professionals, its healthcare provider and employees speaking about their personal experiences.

Meanwhile, law firm Browne Jacobson is signing its staff up to a series of emotional resilience workshops as part of its annual benefits fairs, which are held across three offices in July.

Marks and Spencer plans to roll out a series of new health and wellbeing initiatives for employees in 2015, including a focus on mental health awareness.

And Microsoft has hosted its annual wellbeing week, Living Well 365, with emotional wellness as one of its four pillars, alongside physical wellness, social wellbeing and financial wellbeing.

Rachel Olatoke, head of UK compensation and benefits at Microsoft, said one of the event’s main focuses was to raise awareness in areas that can reduce stress levels. This included workshops covering a range of wellbeing topics, a financial wellbeing clinic and mental first aid classes.

Three-pronged approach to mental wellbeing

Mind, the charity supported by the Employee Benefits Awards 2014, which were held on 27 June in London, recommends a three-pronged approach to supporting workplace mental wellbeing.

Mamo said: ‘It promotes wellbeing for all staff, tackles the causes of work-related mental health problems, and supports staff experiencing mental health problems.’

Unum has launched mental health first aid courses, which employers can offer to their employees. The two-day courses train staff to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental ill-health, and guide those with mental health issues towards the right support services.

These services might include counselling through an employee assistance programme (EAP). In June, Capita Health and Wellbeing analysed data on more than 3,500 employees who used counselling and advice services through an EAP in 2013. Before using the EAP, 51% were having difficulty coping at work, but only 5% felt the same after using it.

‘An EAP can benefit staff, particularly those who don’t feel comfortable taking about their wellbeing with colleagues,’ said Mamo. ‘Promoting initiatives effectively is also important.’

Tackling workplace stress

Towers Watson’s 2013/14 Global benefits attitudes survey: developing a culture of health and wellbeing – UK results, published in June, demonstrated the correlation between workplace stress and employee engagement.

Just over half (57%) of respondents who reported high levels of stress at work said they were disengaged, while 8% said they were highly disengaged. Conversely, 10% of those who reported low levels of workplace stress said they were disengaged, while 49% said they were highly engaged.

‘It’s all very well having support available, but it’s no good if staff aren’t aware that it exists or do not feel comfortable accessing it,’ said Mamo. ‘It’s also advisable for organisations to conduct regular staff surveys to gauge employee wellbeing and see what is working well, and what needs to be improved.’

‘There are sound business reasons for supporting staff mental health. The world of work is changing, with employee engagement, flexible working, resilience and talent management now common currency. Positively managing mental health underpins these approaches and can reap rewards in staff morale, productivity and loyalty.’

By Jennifer Patterson, as published in Employee Benefits on 7th July 2014

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