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Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of your team

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Use this page to familiarise yourself with the early signs of mental health problems and create a supportive working environment.

Early signs of mental health issues and unhealthy working practices

CIPD’s 2020 Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey report found that three-fifths of organisations saw an increase in the number of reported common mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, in the workplace in the previous 12 months.

Unhealthy working practices

When someone is experiencing a mental health problem they may show unhealthy working and volunteering practices, including:

  • working or volunteering when unwell
  • using annual leave to catch up on work
  • working or volunteering long hours and without breaks.

Unhealthy practices are often driven by unmanageable workloads and excessive pressure.

The Mental Health Foundation has more information about the impact work and working conditions can have on mental health.

Signs that someone might be experiencing poor mental health

If an employee or a volunteer is experiencing poor mental health, you may notice some changes in their behaviour. They might be:

  • withdrawn and isolating themselves
  • forgetful
  • curt or abrupt with people
  • having recurring physical ailments and illnesses, for example headaches and migraines
  • not meeting deadlines.

If the problems become more severe, you might also notice signs of:

  • poor sleep or insomnia
  • poor personal hygiene
  • substance abuse
  • calling in sick often.

If you notice these signs, it may be a good time to start a conversation with your employee or volunteer.

Bupa UK has more information on the early signs of mental health problems.

Creating the right environment for good mental health and wellbeing

There are lots of ways you can create a supportive working environment and promote good mental health and wellbeing at work.

Highlighting the importance of staff and volunteer wellbeing

Creating a culture of understanding and openness can help everyone in an organisation. Leaders and managers should make sure staff and volunteers know their wellbeing matters to them.

  • Talk openly about the importance of mental health and wellbeing – for example, in staff or volunteer meetings.
  • Provide information to staff and volunteers about mental health and wellbeing and the support available.
  • Model behaviours that support mental health and wellbeing, such as a good work-life balance, active listening and compassion.
  • Support line managers and volunteer managers to have conversations about mental health and wellbeing with those they manage.
  • Dedicate resources to supporting your organisation’s work in this area.

Altruist Enterprises has guidance to help you devise a mental wellbeing strategy for your organisation.

Read about how your wellbeing as a leader impacts your organisation’s culture in this blog from ACEVO’s head of policy, Kristiana Wrixon.

Creating a mental health and wellbeing policy

It’s a good idea to have a mental health and wellbeing policy which shows what actions you’ll take to support staff and volunteers’ wellbeing. For example:

  • allowing staff and volunteers to work flexibly where possible
  • encouraging staff and volunteers to take regular breaks and time off
  • having regular supervision with staff and volunteers and making sure you check in about how they’re feeling
  • how you’ll respond to people who disclose a mental health problem
  • supporting a phased return to work or volunteering after a mental health absence.

St Johns Ambulance’s workplace wellbeing policy guide has many helpful suggestions.

Managing your people and dedicating resources

Managing your staff and volunteers effectively and making sure they have the resources they need to complete their tasks will support their wellbeing. Where possible, you can do this by:

  • allowing staff and volunteers independence and autonomy in their work
  • involving staff and volunteers in decision making and showing you value their input
  • being approachable, checking in regularly and providing guidance and support
  • providing adequate financial and practical resources for projects and tasks
  • providing suitable training to staff, including training on mental health at work.

Find out more about how to effectively manage your staff and volunteers.

Providing roles that feel worthwhile

An individual’s wellbeing will be supported if their role feels worthwhile and of value. This can be through:

  • clear expectations and responsibilities
  • learning opportunities
  • a variety of projects and tasks
  • a feeling of purpose
  • adequate pay, time off and benefits for staff
  • being shown appreciation.

Read our guidance on:

What Works for Wellbeing has information on the benefits of financial wellbeing and tips on how to improve it.

Creating a safe workplace and creating psychological safety

Psychological safety means people feel safe when they work or volunteer. This includes knowing they’ll be treated with respect and dignity and will be listened to. It also includes knowing there won’t be negative consequences if they:

  • speak up, challenge or disagree
  • provide feedback or propose new ideas
  • ask questions or for help
  • admit to or make mistakes.

The King’s Fund has a video on the importance of psychological safety at work.

Ensuring social relationships are maintained

Research shows that a feeling of belonging is important to people and can help motivate them. Providing enough opportunities for high-quality social interactions at work can:

  • reduce stress
  • increase happiness, engagement and overall health.

You can help staff and volunteers create meaningful relationships by:

  • encouraging team building and the creation of staff networks
  • creating opportunities for people to come together in person and online
  • promoting collaboration across teams and between staff and volunteers.

Business Balls has tips on team building activities.

GOV.UK provides public information about their Civil Service Networks. You could use this as a starting point for developing your own networks.

Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of the people you manage

Managers play an important role in supporting the wellbeing of staff and volunteers. They can do this by:

  • adapting their management style to the individual they manage
  • making sure mental health and wellbeing is part of the conversation
  • where possible, adjusting working or volunteering arrangements to suit individual needs
  • helping people play into their strengths and manage the causes of stress (stressors).

If you manage people, there are some questions you could consider asking.

  • How do you like to be managed?
  • How do you prefer to communicate? Through phone calls, emails or other ways?
  • How can we make your working or volunteering hours work for you?

Having the answers to these questions can help you establish a positive relationship with staff and volunteers and support their mental wellbeing.

Using one-to-one meetings to support mental health and wellbeing

One-to-one meetings are a good opportunity to check in on how an individual is feeling. Don’t assume they’re fine if you’re not seeing outward signs that something is wrong. Mental health problems are not always visible. It’s important for managers to build and model open communication, and to be consistent in their responses and actions, so individuals feel able to use these opportunities to share.

When it comes to what works best for our mental wellbeing, we’re all different. To support individual wellbeing at work, you’ll need to adapt your approach and consider:

  • personal preferences in working or volunteering styles and hours
  • personal circumstances, for example living arrangements, commutes and family situations
  • their unique stressors and challenges, as well as their strengths.

Mind’s wellness action plans can give you some discussion ideas for these meetings.

Having a conversation about mental health and wellbeing

There may be times when the people you manage need more support. They may come to you with a problem or you may notice some warning signs. If that happens, it’s important to talk to them. Approach the conversation with empathy and listen.

Some tips for talking to staff and volunteers about mental health include:

  • choosing a quiet, private space to approach the conversation
  • asking open, non-judgemental questions
  • being honest and clear if there are specific concerns related to performance
  • working with the person to address stressors and plan for the support they need
  • encouraging people to seek information and support, like speaking to their GP
  • reassuring the person and seeking information and support yourself.

Read our guidance on managing performance and download our one-to-one/supervision template.

Mind provides e-learning courses and virtual training on managing mental health at work and supporting others.

Further support

Last reviewed: 01 August 2022

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 01 August 2022

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