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Whilst the subject of mental health has received significant attention over recent years – thanks in part to research, campaigns and well-known personalities sharing personal experiences of their challenges – there is still more work to be done. Reducing stigma, improving knowledge of different mental health conditions, and understanding how best to support those that may be struggling, are just some of the areas that still require development.

Employers have an important role to play in supporting the mental health agenda, from operating workplaces that foster positive mental wellbeing to encouraging employees to speak up without fear of reprimand. Time to Talk Day, on 4th February, also urged businesses to focus on the “power of small” and understand how even the smallest of conversations can make a big difference to employee mental health.

Mental health and the pandemic

The pandemic may have created or exacerbated mental health conditions for some employees, with research suggesting that more than half a million people may experience mental ill health because of Covid-19. Fear of getting ill, being isolated during lockdown, or juggling multiple clashing responsibilities such as home-schooling and work, may have taken its toll on employee mental wellbeing. In fact, research finds that the longer the pandemic continues, the more detrimental it is to mental health.

There are multiple ways to support employee wellbeing, such as having staff that are trained in mental health first aid or offering wellbeing apps that track emotions and teach psychological coping mechanisms. But even organising virtual events, such as team quizzes, can have a powerful impact on improving mental health. Having small conversations, engaging employees that may otherwise be struggling or feeling isolated, can make a significant impact to mental wellbeing. And with mental health problems estimated to cost employers almost £35 billion each year, it’s a conversation worth having.

Don’t let talent fall through the cracks

Those experiencing mental health concerns may be fearful about their future in the business – particularly if their productivity and mood has been negatively impacted. In fact, research shows that 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their job each year. But with as many as one in four people experiencing a mental health problem in the same time frame, businesses cannot afford to let talent fall through the cracks. If organisations can show empathy and provide various support mechanisms, to help employees manage their mental health effectively, talent is more likely to be retained. Tackling unconscious bias around mental health, gaining senior buy-in to provide company wide training on the subject, and ensuring employees feel confident to raise concerns is vital to maintaining a competitive and neurodiverse workforce.

Be mindful of communication

Businesses may need to review their communications to ensure that messages distributed to all key stakeholders, reflects that they are a diverse and supportive employer – especially when it comes to the subject of mental health.  Some business literature can fall victim to mainly focusing on strength and winning, which can serve to alienate employees that don’t wholeheartedly affiliate with these sentiments and make those experiencing mental health issues potentially feel marginalised by such messaging. By developing communications that is inclusive and celebratory of multiple ways of working and thinking, organisations can benefit from attracting and retaining a much wider and diverse pool of talent that feel supported and valued.

With the impact that the pandemic continues to have on mental health, it’s important that businesses support employees where possible. From ensuring managers have regular conversations with individuals, to communicating messaging that is empathetic and supportive, organisations must take a holistic approach to mental wellbeing to help employees thrive, maintaining a diverse and competitive workforce.