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Georgina Hardcastle

HR Consultant - East Sussex (Uckfield)

7th October 2021

Mental Health Well-being: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Ahead of World Mental Health Day on 10 October 2021 and indeed throughout the rest of the year, it’s important for employers to show their employees that mental health is taken seriously. Media campaigns are quick to move on to the next topic but let’s not allow this to happen. Instead we need to continue the conversation and keep the topic of mental health high on the agenda in the workplace.

This year’s theme is ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’. Unfortunately, today’s reality is that many groups of people are disproportionately affected by mental health problems due to the existing inequalities they face in society.

People from ethnic minority backgrounds, for example, are more likely to have to contend with racism, inequality in accessing mental health care and difficulties speaking out about their mental health due to cultural barriers. Being LGBTIQ+ can present issues such as discrimination, social isolation, rejection and difficult experiences of coming out. We also know that people with disabilities of all kinds suffer discrimination, are deprived of some of life’s fundamental experiences and often feel excluded from society.

In addition, many women, particularly those who are juggling part-time work with child care responsibilities or returning to work after taking time out to have a family, often struggle with regaining confidence and can face barriers in career progression. Younger workers are also becoming an increasingly vulnerable group with hardships ranging from higher levels of stress, employment instability and the prevalence of cyberbullying through the increased use of social media platforms. Older workers may experience digital exclusion and feeling disconnected from the workplace.

These inequalities do not necessarily result in problems of poor mental health, but they may mean these groups are at higher risk of developing a mental health problem than others. Additionally, according to the Mental Health Foundation, ‘the pandemic seems to have widened mental health inequalities, with the groups that had the poorest mental health pre-crisis also having had the largest deterioration in mental health during lockdown’. As has been said, ‘we are all in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat’.

Addressing mental health inequality in the workplace

Mental health is not just an ‘HR issue’ solved by having a ‘tick box’ solution like a mental health policy in place for employees to read. It’s also an equality, diversity and inclusion issue. We need to recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to employee mental well-being. Instead, we need to understand that people have different backgrounds and experiences and in order to ensure everyone can thrive at work and experience good mental health, it’s necessary to explore different solutions that support individuals’ different needs.

Whether employees have either adopted a more permanent hybrid working arrangement in light of the pandemic or have physically returned to the workplace on a more permanent basis, a good place for businesses to start is to take a critical look at existing organisational strategies to address health and well-being and, with the knowledge that mental health inequality is real, understand what improvements could be made to create a more inclusive environment.

Employers should consider a variety of ways in which to raise mental health awareness as well as diverse support channels to meet everyone’s different needs as part of an overall wellness strategy.

Some examples to help raise awareness might include:

  • Simply talking more about mental health as a way to raise awareness and create a culture of mental wellness. A member of senior management could speak out on the issue of mental health and draw on an experience of their own to help break down the taboo and show that it’s ok to struggle sometimes.
  • Reminding employees about internal support services such as Employee Assistance Programmes.
  • Displaying leaflets and posters around the workplace to show support for global campaigns such as World Mental Health Day or Mental Health Awareness Week. Newsletters or intranets should regularly address the issue of mental health.
  • Organising wellness activities for employees to help energise them and encourage them to think about their well-being/self-care (i.e. mindfulness & meditation/yoga/massage).
  • Inviting a professional speaker into the workplace to discuss a subject area such as living with anxiety and depression, over a company-provided lunch or breakfast, and for the speaker to share their life journey with staff who’d like to attend.
  • Providing regular well-being webinars that focus on key areas such as general well-being, adapting to change, stress and anxiety, breathing & relaxation techniques, financial wellbeing or nutrition are important to show commitment to mental health well-being.
  • Training managers on mental health awareness to equip them with a baseline knowledge of tools they can use during difficult conversations, how to be confident in starting mental health conversations, how to recognise the warning signs that someone might be struggling and how to identify what adjustments may need to be put in place to meet that individual’s particular needs. It’s imperative that managers understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
  • Having Mental Health First Aiders or Champions – people sometimes find it easier to speak to someone who isn’t their Manager. Peer support allows people to support one another outside of the line-management structure.
  • Providing regular opportunities to discuss, review and reflect on people’s positive achievements to build up positive self-esteem and ensuring that the first question in any one-to-one or catch up is asking the question ‘how are you?’. This basic question is too often overlooked and the focus of such conversations becomes solely performance and work-based.
  • Considering asking employees to complete a Wellness Action Plan (WAP) if they feel comfortable in doing so. A WAP is a mental health action plan designed to help employees manage their mental health and wellbeing at work and sets out how their Line Manager can support them. This support tool may assist those people who struggle to talk openly about their mental health.
  • Where space and resources allow, identifying a ‘safe space’ in the workplace where someone can have some time out and/or where they can access information such as, how to promote self-care and improve mental health well-being.

The key message here is that experiences of mental health differ greatly from one person to the next with some groups of people being at greater risk of being adversely affected by mental health problems. Any mental health support provided by employers needs to be tailored to an individual’s own set of circumstances in order to foster a truly inclusive workforce.

Contact us

Rix & Kay is committed to fostering a work-place environment that promotes mental and physical well-being amongst all its employees. It also works closely with a wide range of employers helping them to put in place foundations to support mental and physical well-being within their own organisation.

For more information contact our GatekeeperHR team or email Georgina Hardcastle at georginahardcastle@rixandkay.co.uk

GatekeeperHR is a fixed cost, employment law and HR retainer service which provides businesses with access to a dedicated team of experienced lawyers and HR professionals who you can speak to, or meet face-to-face, at any time. The service includes a full HR compliance audit, access to an online portal full of valuable employment law and HR resources and access to training. Visit www.gatekeeperhr.co.uk for more information.