Rethink Mental Illness: 10 tips for a mental health-friendly workplace

The mental illness support charity gives some easy-to-implement practical advice

Communication is key to good mental health at work
Communication is key to good mental health at work

Be open

Above and beyond any practical advice, the most effective way to make your workplace mental health-friendly is to talk about it. Encourage everyday conversations about everyone's mental health. Make it OK to talk about and everything else will follow.

Have the options available

Having plans in place to support mental health and offering them to everyone as a matter of course can be helpful. Here at Rethink Mental Illness we use a tool called a wellness & recovery action plan, or Wrap. This is a document drawn up by the person in question, based on what they know about their own experiences. Sometimes this type of document is referred to as an advance statement.

It can include a daily maintenance, what keeps the person well, early warning signs and what they need in a crisis or period of recovery. Working through these with employees means you can have a straightforward discussion of mental health and be ready to support them in the ways that you know work for them.

Make reasonable adjustments

The law says that an employer has to make "reasonable adjustments" for disability, and mental illness falls into this category in these circumstances. We know that a lot of managers don’t always know how to go about this. But most of these adjustments are straightforward and free.

They include things like flexible working hours to ensure someone with anxiety doesn’t have to travel at rush hour, having a quiet area of the office for people who prefer to work in a calmer environment and letting people take short breaks during the day if they feel overwhelmed. These adjustments can be good for anyone's mental health and are often worth adopting for everyone’s wellbeing.

Encourage work-life balance

Every organisation has busy periods and most teams will have times when they are working to tough deadlines and pulling long hours. Support your staff to make time for their home lives and interests outside work by encouraging people to leave at sensible times and take all their annual leave.

Work against stigma

Every workplace can help to tackle stigma and there are ways to get involved with Time to Change, the anti-stigma campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, to support this. Your organisation can sign the Time to Change employer pledge. It demonstrates your commitment to change how we think and act about mental health in the workplace and make sure employees who are facing these problems feel supported. There’s also National Time to Talk Day in February, when the whole workplace can come to together to talk about mental health.

Build mental health into conversations

As well as specialist days, you can also take steps to make mental health part of your regular conversations. This goes a long way to normalising it and helps everyone to open up. As part of one-to-ones and supervision, take a moment to ask how the other person is, how their work is affecting their mental health and if there is anything weighing on them in particular.

Lead by example

If you look after your own mental health, with regular breaks, a good work-life balance and taking your annual leave, it will be easier for your team too. Think about the habits you model to your team. Are you looking after yourself?

Mental health first-aid training

More and more workplaces are offering this. Just like physical health first-aid, this covers what you should do in a crisis. It means that someone in the office is on hand to help with any emergencies that arise, either with employees, volunteers or customers. You can learn more about training at rethink.org/training.

Encourage wellbeing at work

There are lots of things you can do to help everyone’s mental health. Initiatives such as time off for volunteering work, lunchtime meditation or exercise groups can all help make your workplace mentally healthier and happier.

Know where to get help

If you are struggling to support an employee or colleague with a mental health issue, don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. Our advice team hears regularly from managers who need help with reasonable adjustments or disclosure of mental illness. If you have a question, go to rethink.org/advice.

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