What are the top 5 things HR can do to improve mental health in the workplace?

mental health culture

There are five key interventions that HR should focus on in order to improve mental health outcomes in the workplace, according to the Black Dog Institute.

“Historically, there has been an under-investment in the area of mental health in the workplace,” said Dr Mark Deady, post-doctoral research fellow at the Black Dog Institute.

“But there is a growing awareness of the issue and many organisations are actively taking measures to try and address it through a range of different avenues.”

However, there are still a number of gaps and challenges for organisations, and Deady said there are five key areas they should focus on in order to address these gaps and improve the effectiveness of mental health interventions.

“The first is to design jobs and the nature of the work itself to minimise harm, in terms of increasing flexibility around work, increasing the control that employees have over their work and reducing the demands of that work where possible,” he said.

The second key area relates to building organisational resilience through good management, management training and workplace support, with a view to building “social safety” requirements within organisations to ultimately be more mentally healthy.

The third most important step is to offer programs which enhance personal resilience.

“There’s evidence to suggest that both physical health as well as mental health programmes are quite effective in building personal resilience in employees and supporting mental health in that way,” said Deady.

The fourth area to focus on involves early seeking of help, which is a key area that’s overlooked in many workplaces, he explained.

“Management is in a unique and quite a powerful position in terms of managing some of the mental health issues of their direct reports”

“This leads to more severe and ingrained ill-health, and we see that a lot in certain populations – particularly male-dominated industries where there’s a lack of help-seeking, and consequently particularly high rates of mental health issues in those populations,” said Deady.

The fifth and final most important step is to support recovery and returning to work for employees who are off on leave on mental-ill health grounds, he added.

Future mental health challenges and what HR can do
Deady also predicted that major restructuring and mass redundancies due to technology replacing jobs in entire industries over the coming years could have major repercussions for individual mental health.

“Despite the impact of some ailments of employment, the impacts of unemployment are even more pronounced,” said Deady.

He explained that it is important to take measures to lessen the impact of such changes through managerial sensitivity, communication and dedicated guidance plans and transition programs for employees that do lose jobs as a result of this trend.

HR needs to be aware of two issues in this, the first of which is the general nature of work itself in terms of optimising job conditions to reduce mental health risk.

“However, in many cases that’s not really within HR’s control,” he said.

Secondly, the provision of mental health training, leadership training and the up-skilling of managers to respond to issues where possible is important.

“Despite the impact of some ailments of employment, the impacts of unemployment are even more pronounced”

“Management is in a unique and quite a powerful position in terms of managing some of the mental health issues of their direct reports,” said Deady.

One of the best early steps HR can take is to establishing health and wellbeing committees where none exist, as well as clear policies and procedures around management of mental health issues, as well as support for employees returning to work from a break as a result of mental-ill health.

HR also needs to consider risks and gaps within their specific organisations and where improvements can be made.

“Obviously every industry is quite different and they all have unique risks, so it is important to understand these risks and subsequent opportunities when it comes to both mental health and supporting employees experiencing mental ill-health,” said Deady.

A third and final consideration for HR lies in how to address these risks proactively.

“In some cases this might be monitoring and improving the social safety climate of the organisation itself,” he said.

“This speaks to the culture of the organisation and the bounds between employees’ psychological health and wellbeing and their safety, along with the balance between that and the organisations’ productivity.”

This should also reflect a management commitment to stress-prevention and safety in the workplace in terms of mental health.

“This is one area that is relevant for any industry, but it needs to be applied in a way that is more pertinent to each particular organisation,” said Deady.