Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

How HR Leaders Can Support Workplace Mental Health & Wellbeing

By Psychotherapist Noel McDermott

As an enlightened HR leader everything you do to promote inclusion, tolerance and openness will improve the health and wellbeing of your workforce. It will enhance your company’s resilience and productivity very significantly, reducing absenteeism and illness. The core to workplace wellness is an open and inclusive culture, one that celebrates diversity. This type of environment can automatically improve our mental and physical health without the need to do anything specifically targeting them.

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments: “Diverse peer groups are so powerful they are being used to treat all sorts of long term and chronic conditions from addiction to diabetes, to severe mental illness, to more common mood disorders, to obesity and the list goes on. Simply put, diversity equals health, the person who has a diverse range of people in their lives is healthier than the one that lives in a monoculture. The healthier the people in your company are, the healthier the company is.”

Tips for HR managers 

  • Encourage open dialogue on mental health issues
  • Create mental health ambassadors within your organisation
  • Encourage leaders to share their stories of struggle and healing 

Increase wellbeing and positive mental health by encouraging conversations

The second key thing to increasing wellbeing and positive mental health is encouraging conversations around the psychological struggle individuals have experienced and how they got help. Leaders in organisations play a crucial role here in promoting this by example. When leaders share their stories of struggle and recovery they increase the chances their followers will too. The sooner an individual gets help for their psychological struggles the better the outcomes, they can then become ambassadors within the organisation for disclosure and help create a virtuous circle in the workplace.

Promote healthy lifestyle choices

The third key area of work is to promote healthy lifestyle choices, introduce support for exercise, healthy eating options, reducing use of alcohol, stop smoking campaigns, encourage the uptake of mindfulness meditation and relaxation. Look to promote positive group and interpersonal skills, as our biggest single source of stress is our relationship to others. Organise talks and information on healthy relationship skills, teach conflict resolution, and yes do the dreaded group development (team building) days!

Alternative wellbeing in the workplace 

  • Create community by having family days 
  • Create taster sessions for more wellbeing approaches such as light therapy, yoga, acupuncture and acupressure, PT sessions
  • Encourage volunteerism for the local community 

Meaningful activity a positive health factor

With those struggling with more severe psychological illness work to keep them in the workplace and have services that stabilise them and help them get well in situ. Meaningful activity (work) is in itself a health factor. People you invest in in this way similarly invest back into their workplace. They become the assets in your asset-based health strategy, approaches which have been shown not only to improve outcomes for specific health interventions but also raise the bar in terms of prevention of illness and general wellbeing. 

How HR Departments can lower staff stress levels 

  • Teach mindfulness and relaxation in the workplace. Encourage it’s use through facilitated group sessions at regular times in the work schedule
  • Set up break out areas to allow staff to socialise and let go of work issues. Put in games areas, relaxation zones, healthy food, drinks etc in these places
  • Teach conflict resolution skills 
  • Ask leaders to role model healthy boundaries at work by sharing how they ‘switch off’ and leave the office behind when at home 
  • Monitor for overwork in staff and target those who habitually do long hours to encourage them to work more healthily 

The bottom line improves because of reduction in absenteeism and all the money you waste by managing that. This is improved further because of the evidenced improvements in productivity of a healthy workforce and further still because of the commitment you get from a workforce that view you as an ally and friend and work harder as a result. The cost of treating illness runs into the billions, the ‘cost’ of providing in work health programmes runs into the millions and that cost is offset by the gains which are usually measured in significant improvements in performance.

Noel McDermott is an expert on mental health in the workplace and runs Mental Health Works Ltd. He works alongside leaders providing wellbeing in the workplace advice and solutions, teaching them tools to keep staff healthy.