It has been made quite clear that mental health has become a major concern in the workplace since the beginning of the pandemic. The great news is that organisations have the power to make pivotal moves in enhancing the mental state of their people. Addressing mental health and wellbeing in the workplace creates a noticeable difference.

Studies found that organisations that put programmes that address mental wellbeing in place experienced improved employee performance, self-efficacy and other self-reported benefits. Employees’ mental health should be prioritised now more than ever. This is only the start of mental health being unleased in the workplace. It has a space in workplaces now and most definitely in the future.

Employers have far more aware of the repercussions of not prioritising mental health. McKinsey conducted a study that revealed that 80% of employers expressed some concern around their people’s overall mental wellbeing. About half of these employers indicated that mental health had become a top organisational and CEO priority.

It is all good and well that employers are becoming more aware of mental wellbeing in the workplace, but what are they doing about it?

Two practical mental-health implementations that occurred from the surveyed employers:

  1. Organisational leadership: Almost three-quarters of the employers surveyed reported that they had appointed a mental-health leader, while about 40% of employers appointed mental-health leaders in executive roles. These leaders are responsible for monitoring and measuring employees’ mental-wellbeing needs, examining the benefits of providing support programmes, ensuring that each employee has access to treatment and overseeing the implementation of health-related organisational programmes.
  2. Expanding resources: Roughly 70% of employers report that they plan to invest more in mental-health resources. This includes starting, continuing and expanding on benefits already offered to their people. The results indicate that employers most commonly wish to expand support to ensure that they promote employee productivity, enhance work satisfaction and attract and retain top talent.

We might jump to conclusions and think that enhancing mental health within the workplace is about setting up wellness programmes owned by those sitting in HR. Having this mindset will only set your organisation up for failure. Real change and implementation of mental health support is the organisation’s collective responsibility. Mental-health practices should be integrated into the organisation’s operating model and deeply ingrained in the culture.

5 Actions to support mental health:

  • Design the workplace to minimise harm
  • Develop organisational resilience
  • Develop individual resilience
  • Facilitate precautionary help-seeking
  • Support employee recovery and return to work

Design workplace to minimise harm

This domain focuses on addressing core risk factors such as different stress levels or a lack of flexibility and support provided to individuals. Taking positive action can take many different forms. If individuals feel a lack of support, implementing peer-support schemes and support buddies can enhance the experience of new hires. Organisations can also encourage informal social groupings where individuals can cross-collaborate in work channels. This will lead to an organisational-wide sense of belonging and connection.

What did organisations do in the pandemic?

  • Community building: An organisation brought together people across various roles and duty levels to help build organisational connectedness. Many of these groupings continued to get together once it was no longer mandatory.
  • Flexibility: Ensuring that employees had flexible working hours took many different shapes and forms. This often took the form of paid and unpaid time off, reduced working hours or completely different working patterns.

Develop organisational resilience

Much like designing a workplace to minimise harm, organisations can ensure organisational resilience in many ways. Programmes focused on creating psychological safety, and broad-based mental-health awareness have proved to be highly effective when paired with leader training.

What did organisations do in the pandemic?

  • The promotion of mental health: Leaders often use storytelling to publicly share their commitment and support to improving mental health in the workplace. The most effective examples include reaching people through various communication channels and storytelling paired with tips, details of resources made available and mental wellness activities.
  • Boundary-setting: An organisation took on the challenge of creating a meeting-free lunch break where no external or internal meetings could be scheduled. Automated communications would be sent out to individuals that accepted or booked meetings during that time.
  • Leadership capability: Many different organisations held leadership mental training sessions. Some organisations made these sessions mandatory. Remember, the culture is set from the top.

 Develop individual resilience

Employers have pulled out the stops to provide a range of individual interventions to ensure that employees have the necessary support. One of these interventions has included cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT aims to change individuals’ misconceptions and assumptions and teaches them new skills for coping with stressful situations.

What did organisations do in the pandemic?

  • Resilience training: Some organisations provided workbooks that describe different resilience challenges that individuals may typically find in the workplace. These workbooks could be completed alone. However, some people were even encouraged to get together to share their experiences and how they coped. This enhanced connection amongst colleagues.
  • Mindfulness programmes: An organisation started a programme where employees could share their experiences and have the opportunity to participate in positive psychology activities. Other organisations suggested that their people join free mindfulness and meditation apps to assist them with building resilience.
  • Physical activity: Many organisations created virtual physical challenges where you could participate as an individual or group. These activities included mini-milestones and the opportunity for people to share their stories and progress.

Facilitate precautionary help-seeking

Prevention is better than cure. Organisations that sought after early help-seeking often had a strong awareness of the signs of mental illness and provided the appropriate services with a culture that promoted asking for help.

What did organisations do in the pandemic?

  • Uniquely tailored mental-health awareness: One organisation created a multi-channel communications series that focused on the experiences of working-parent employees and the most common challenges experienced around mental illness to instil organisational awareness.
  • Mental-health events: Different organisations created town halls where employees could get together and share their stories. CEOs also made appearances and shared their own stories, which showed their vulnerable side to the rest of the organisation. This instilled a sense of trust among employees.

Support employee recovery and return to work

Previously, organisations believed that employees who come back after experiencing mental-health issues would make a full recovery upon return. We now know that this was a misguided assumption. Returning to work has become an important part of an employee’s recovery journey. Changes to the way their job is designed may be necessary. Many organisations have found that employees who wanted to take leave have been treated as an HR responsibility. Some leaders expressed discomfort and lack of confidence in their ability to provide the necessary support to their people upon their return.

What did organisations do in the pandemic?

  • Access to psychological support: Many organisations have provided access to psychologists to support individuals at all levels in the organisation.
  • Increased leave: A few organisations provided five days of “pandemic leave” with no additional questions asked.

What has your organisation implemented to enhance mental wellness?

By Nadia Daniel


McKinsey. (2021). National surveys reveal disconnect between employees and employers around mental health need. Retrieved from Employer actions to support mental health | McKinsey

McKinsey. (2021). Out of the shadows: Sustainably improving workplace mental health. Retrieved from Sustainably improving workplace mental health | McKinsey

McKinsey. (2021). Using digital technology to support employees’ mental health. Retrieved from Using digital technology to support employees’ mental health | McKinsey

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