Five ways CEOs can support positive mental health in the workplace

This no-nonsense article is essential reading for the 56% of CEOs who still haven’t taken strategic action towards this business-critical challenge.

Why it’s important:

As of June 2020, one in five of your employees were experiencing some form of depression (ONS). That number had doubled since the previous three quarters. And there are many other forms of mental unwellness to also consider. Aside from a moral obligation to take action, there’s a strong business case. Put simply, you’re not going to get the best of people who aren’t well.

It comes from the top:

Many CEOs delegate wellbeing to HR, which is OK if you have a high profile and extremely switched on and influential head of HR, though a recent report in Harvard Business Review said that employees are least likely to talk to HR about mental health. As with any change process, guidance and role modelling have to come from the top.

Where companies go wrong:

Too many organisations are implementing ‘tick-box’ solutions without fact finding first. Yoga classes, free fruit, employee assistance programmes and wellbeing seminars are all excellent things. However, it’s important to deal with the big picture first; your culture. If, on the one hand, the company message is “your metal health is important to us” and then when I come to talk to you about not feeling great and my manager tells me to “pull myself together”, then all the meditation, exercise and relaxation areas in the world aren’t going to help me. Prevention is definitely better than cure.

How to get it right:

1. Find out the status quo via a survey or talking to people: How are people feeling? To what extent does your culture promote wellbeing? What support do they know about? What help would people find useful? How are they coping with the ‘survivor guilt’ of not being on the redundancy list? And so on…
2. Regroup to discuss the outcomes and plan your approach. You might well find, for example, that some robust work needs to be done around trust, communication, clarity, consistency – all major contributors to mental wellbeing.
3. Start with your leaders: First make sure they’re coping and feeling well, have good levels of resilience and are willing and able to lead. Then you might need some attitudinal and skills readjustment to ensure they are completely behind supporting mental wellbeing across all stages of the employee journey.
4. Implement your plan, including a tool that will help people to self-assess their own wellbeing and then access personalised advice and support, whenever they need to, an example would be our own Wellbee tool.
5. Review, refine, readjust…


One study said that for every £10 you spend on mental health support; you’ll receive £87 back (Knapp M et al). Another said that better mental health support can save UK business £8bn pa (ONS).

From a reputational point of view, once we’re on the other side of C-19 and the war for talent rages once more, people simply won’t want to work for employers who don’t care and don’t adequately and genuinely support them. Now’s the time to take pivotal action…

How we can help:

Bespoke surveys with practical advice and action planning; consulting around cultural authenticity, wellbeing, trust and other people related topics; Wellbee tool; additional award-winning people-related tech products; group-coaching for leaders.

Mental health in numbers:

1. 1 in 3 people experience moderate to severe depressive symptoms – this has tripled since-C-19
2. 82% of employees experience unhealthy stress at work
3. 33% of people professionals who report an increase in stress related illness say their employers aren’t taking any action
4. 90% of people work when sick (presenteeism)
5. 73% of workers report working when on leave (leaveism)
6. 86% feel unable to ‘switch off’ outside work
7. 87% of employees are using at least one coping strategy* to manage their mental health

*The most effective coping strategies: walking, visiting a green space, video chats with family and friends

Sources: ONS, Mental Health Foundation, CIPD