What does a mentally healthy workplace look like? 

Chris Warburton and Stuart Hill · 9 May 2021


Mental health has been an increasingly high-profile issue in recent years. With us spending so many hours working, we know that work can have a significant impact on our mental health – and this risks being exacerbated by new ways of working through the pandemic. 

We’ve all experienced some level of work-related stress at some point in our lives. But it’s important that the right support systems are in place to ensure that it doesn’t become a bigger problem. This means having our own techniques to support, protect and sustain our mental health, but we can’t do it all on our own. 

We know that employers who take mental health seriously (and that doesn’t just mean bean bags in the canteen and lunchtime yoga classes) have more mentally healthy workers. 

Whether employees work at home or in the workplace, employers must support those with poor mental health and take active steps to stop workers becoming mentally unwell in the first place. 

Here are some questions to ask about whether your employer is doing all they can to support good mental health at work: 

Does your employer have a stress and mental health policy?

Good policies establish your employer’s commitment to removing or minimising stressful work and supporting the mental health of all staff, especially those with mental health problems 

It should link with other policies like home and flexible working; sickness absence; equality, diversity and inclusion; and health and safety. For more information, see our mental health guide 

Is there a stress risk assessment?

Employers have a legal obligation to assess and manage harmful organisational and job factors like workload, poorly managed change or bullyingYour employer should work out – in consultation with your union – how to remove or reduce the risks. 

Is prevention favoured over cure?

This is less to do with documentation and more about the employer’s culture, attitude and actions. 

There is a growing body of evidence that prevention of mental health problems is key. Just like your employer would want to ensure that nobody breaks their leg in the workplace, they should focus on avoiding work causing mental health problems, too.  

Employers are increasingly aware that mental health is an important workplace issue and provide a range of wellbeing support services. This is important, but too few put similar resources into considering and tackling the ways in which the workplace causes mental ill health. 

Are there clear expectations concerning communication and work boundaries for remote workers?

Remote working has led to a reliance on technology to communicate. This is often accompanied by the tacit expectation that employees are always available and must respond to messages quickly, which can lead to stress and burnout.  

In agreement with your union, management should clearly articulate a series of expectations around availability and communication, which could be set out in a remote work or working time policy.  

For example, expectations could include that: employees are to only work a set number of hours; messages are only responded to in working hours, and not right away; meetings are only held when necessary; and leaders will role model these behaviours. 

Is mental health and stress addressed on the joint health and safety committee?

Mental health is a workplace health issue, and the employer must consult your union on how it is tackling the risks that can cause itThe joint committee should monitor and scrutinise trends, interventions and strategies concerning mental health 

Does your employer monitor employee mental health and exposure to sources of stress?

Surveys and other sources of data, such as sickness absence, will help identify the way that work is affecting employee mental health and who is at risk. This data can also be used in the stress risk assessment. Information about sources of data can be found below.  

Are there workplace adjustments for people will mental ill health?

Simple changes, made after discussion, will often be all that are required. 

Are there reasonable adjustment passports?

These documents, which detail an employeeagreed workplace adjustments, prevent them having to reassess adjustments when they get a new supervisor or change teams.  

Are line managers and employees trained in mental health?

Line managers should be trained to spot signs of distress; support people with conditions; and understand how work and their actions can affect employees’ mental healthTraining staff will make them more aware of the causes of mental ill health, be more confident in supporting colleagues and help destigmatise the issue.  

Are employees provided with access to psychological therapies?

Employee assistance programmes and counselling services can help employees who are struggling. If the provider also offers other occupational health services, it should be SEQOHS accredited.

Chris Warburton is Prospect’s health and safety researcher
Stuart Hill is Prospect’s digital manager