Is your workforce mentally healthy?

Liz Skelton, Vice-President of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), provides advice for employers on ensuring that workers are mentally healthy…

Having a mentally healthy workforce is a key component of any successful organisation. Positive feelings about work have been linked with higher productivity, profitability and customer and worker loyalty. The value of having a culture of care is something which is being recognised by increasing numbers of organisations across different industries. Mental health problems can affect anyone at any time, just as a cold or flu can. Therefore all organisations should have it high on their health agenda. In fact, mental health should be given parity with physical health. So, how do you ensure you have a mentally healthy workforce?

If you are looking to set up a programme to promote mental health it is vital that you must get buy-in at all levels. This means from the CEO through to all employees. It is important that those at management levels lead the way. Managers can help employees strike a good work/life balance in many ways, something which is very important for our mental health.

Managers can do this by encouraging staff to take holiday entitlement, take breaks and work sensible hours. Meanwhile flexible working arrangements can be helpful. If you, as a manager, lead the way on this by doing it yourself, they will be inclined to follow. On the flip side, if workers see a manager not taking holidays and working long hours, they may do the same.

Mental health is often a tricky subject to talk about. There is a real stigma around it, meaning it can make people uncomfortable. But this doesn’t need to be the case, nor should it be. By opening up and engaging with your teams about mental health you can start the dialogue.

Think of the benefits of promoting a culture of support; where positive behaviour is rewarded and people feel valued. This encourages openness, which in turn makes employees feel they can talk about the issues they have and get the right level of support.

Quite often poor mental health is not the result of just one factor. It can be many factors, for example someone could be worried about a piece of work they have on and at the same time have a personal issue. As a manager, you should attempt to regularly touch base with employees to gain an understanding of how they are – both in and outside work – and give them an opportunity to ask for help and advice.

Ask questions like “how are things for you at the moment?” and “how’s work going?” While encouraging openness among staff members is a good start to building a mentally healthy workforce, it is not enough by itself. It is also important that managers have the tools to be able to help.

This can include proactive policies, training in what to look out for and how to manage cases, occupational health support and a good understanding of emotional intelligence. You can ensure that managers – and staff members – have access to stress management and resilience training. This not only equips teams but helps to develop their skills and confidence, as well as demonstrate you value them.

Within organisations there can be a disconnection between what a senior manager believes is happening and what actually happens. To avoid this, line managers should communicate clearly with teams and ensure that senior managers know if there are increasing demands.

So there are many ways in which organisations can start looking at ensuring workers are mentally healthy. It should form part of their safety and health management systems. Organisations which view these systems as a priority experience improved reputation, resilience and results.

IOSH is the Chartered body for health and safety professionals. With more than 44,000 members in 120 countries, we’re the world’s biggest professional health and safety organisation. We set standards, and support, develop and connect our members with resources, guidance, events and training. We’re the voice of the profession, and campaign on issues that affect millions of working people.

IOSH was founded in 1945 and is a registered charity with international NGO status.

Liz Skelton


Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)


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