What can companies do to support new staff who experience mental health challenges?

Asking for adjustments in the work place can be difficult, especially if you are unsure of exactly what to ask for. This article hopes to address this, and is split into two parts-

Firstly, answers to the question ‘What are some of the best things you’ve seen employers do to support staff experiencing mental health challenges’ from a couple of experts in this area and an example from British Swimming. While these examples won’t be duplicated across every company, I hope this gives insight and encouragement into what is possible.

Secondly, examples from our task group’s own resources on adjustments that you may consider asking for, and a list of other useful resources.

Please note, this article does not address Access to Work directly. If you would like help with this or any of the topics in this article, then please don’t hesitate to engage with your university’s careers service who can assist.

Part 1

Tom Oxley – Bamboo Workplace Mental Health

“Organisations vary greatly in their approach to mental health support. It’s talked about a lot – but delivered in many different ways. Those that are forthcoming about this at interview stage before a job is offered are likely to have a good general approach such as a wellbeing programme, a wellbeing team and investment in programmes to help staff. I don’t count baskets of fruit on a Friday or Pilates on a wet Wednesday as proper management – self care is of course important but when mental health support is properly resourced, it’s more meaningful and authentic. Some organisations have a Mindful Employer marque to show this.

  • In house counsellors are a good sign (the Bank of England has two) and occupational health teams are also great support.
  • Manager and all-staff training means there’s a good code of practice – Cambridge Assessment and Cadbury are excellent examples of big firms, but there’s lots of smaller companies too. Thames Water also use VR glasses to train staff. Wellbeing Action Plans are a good sign too (they assist conversations with managers when you come back after time off.)
  • Staff network groups are often helpful for information (but can end up being a talking shop for medication which is fine, if you like that sort of thing.) Transport for London do this – and they also have a buddy system for when you return to work after a block of time off (e.g. for ill-health or maternity/paternity).
  • Leaders talking is probably my gold medal sign that an organisation gets this – when the Chief Executive gets it, you can bet your boots the company does e.g. Thames Water, Mace and Birketts Solicitors. Look for videos where senior leaders show their face as well as talk about their commitment. I think this goes substantially beyond signing a pledge.
  • As for the future? Look at Wellbot (a desktop-support for wellbeing) IPRS Health’s phone-based therapy and those who have good employee benefits or health insurance that includes mental health support (some call this an employee assistance programme) which often offers free, fast and confidential support.”

Colin Minto, Head of Talent Acquisition at Marriott International

“Many companies are responding to the myriad of reports, supportive statistics and conversations from The Royals, business leaders, sports people, celebrities, charities, support agencies and Government, and are addressing the needs of people and overall challenge in three ways.

Primary Approach

The smartest businesses are conducting internal research, using solutions like StressFactor from APeopleBusiness and HSE Stress Surveys, to identify the stress hierarchies across their organisations, which audiences are affected and to what extent, why and how they can directly address what they establish.

This results in an understanding of who needs most help, why and what needs to be put in place, e.g. clinical support, programmatic solutions and strategy to drive ongoing support, business, work practice and management change and cultural evolution. This all leads to a mentally healthier and responsive organisation where people bring their whole and optimal selves to work, to perform meaningful and optimal work, which in turn achieves increased personal and business productivity.

Secondary Approach

Some are just recognising they need to respond and assuming the extent of the challenges that exist across their workforce and business. They are Implementing Employee Assistance Programmes, First Response Mental Health support and counselling, and a range of activities to drive awareness of the importance of mental health and make it a more comfortable internal conversation to have.

Tertiary (Tactical) Approach

Many are being quite tactical and implementing general wellbeing schemes and activities to impact on mental health, such as sharing readily available information, organising mindfulness sessions, encouraging healthy lifestyles and bringing in specialist speakers for lunch and learn sessions.

Naturally the most successful organisations at supporting and improving peoples mental health, and therefore creating the most collective value, are those starting with the Primary activities and building in the Secondary and Tertiary activities into their strategy and programme. These organisations are equally the most attractive for people with mental difference and have a optimal foundation for leveraging neurodiversity across the organisation.”

Jane Cattermole, Mainly Mental Health

“I think the best results I’ve seen have been where there is a well-thought out wellbeing strategy, supported at Board Level, and focussing on a tiered approach from recruitment to retention. Having access to support through an Employee Assistance Programme and other benefits and ensuring these benefits are vigorously promoted.

I’ve also seen great improvements in absence levels and retention where MHFA Training is available to all staff and there is a robust network of visible, supported, voluntary mental health first aiders from throughout the company. I’ve seen this implemented with great impact at Thames Water, who have changed the culture around mental health by making mental health a regular focus point and have worked with local community groups, schools and charities to reduce stigma.

Also, companies who train Line Managers to recognise and respond appropriately and pro-actively to staff who experience mental ill health and are able to signpost quickly to the appropriate support regularly report positive results. “

Jenny Green, People Development Partner, Swim England

“We have always utilised opportunities such as World Mental Health Day to encourage people to talk about mental health and reach out for support when needed. Our CEO is a long-serving Samaritan so is always happy to address our people on mental health initiatives and the importance of listening to and supporting each other…

As a result of guidance received from Mind, we then launched the Mind Wellness Actions Plans. We recommended all employees completed one with their line manager. We received some great feedback from those who had used them and one of our department heads decided to share theirs with their entire team to inspire them to talk about their own mental health. As a People Development team, we encourage all those that come to us for wellbeing advice and guidance to complete a WAP. We also use the wellbeing section of our team e-guide to signpost people to WAPs, along with our employee assistance programme…

We also identified the need to train our line managers in supporting employees who approach them about mental health issues and felt that the Mind Managing Mental Health at Work training best suited our needs. Initially we piloted this session with a group of line managers who had team members that they were currently supporting with their mental health. Due to the great feedback received we then rolled this out to all of our line managers and will continue to do so with new line managers. Although training line managers in having conversations around wellbeing is invaluable, we also saw the value in providing resilience training to all of our team members. These training sessions are currently running monthly until July. Alongside this we also trained our People Development Team and First Aiders in Mental Health First Aid, who are now our Wellbeing Champions Group.

We have seen a significant increase in our team members looking out for each other

This set the wheels in motion for our team members to be much more open to discussing mental health in the workplace. Since the above actions have been implemented we have seen a significant increase in our team members looking out for each other and checking in with each other from a wellbeing perspective. As a People Development Team we are regularly alerted to concerns about others’ wellbeing, which is great to see and allows us to signpost people to useful resources early on when a change is noticed in their wellbeing.

Moving forwards we are excited about our partnership with Mind as an operational partner on the Get Set to Go campaign. We have signed up to the Sport and Recreational Alliance’s Mental Health Charter which will see us promoting wellbeing across the sport and to all who come into contact with it.

Taken from Mental Health at Work, full article can be found here.

Part 2

Adjustments in the workplace – from ‘Explaining your mental health condition to others’, by the AGCAS Disability Task Group.

Starting Work

  • If you need any adjustments prior to starting work such as flexible hours, you may wish to discuss these in advance with HR and ensure these are in place before your first day at work.
  • Settling into a new role takes time, and along the way you may feel anxious and stressed. Some individuals find it helpful to have regular meetings with their supervisor or to have a mentor at work to talk to about their feelings.

Examples of adjustments when starting work include:

  • Agreeing flexible start and end times or an assigned parking space to alleviate the stress of a busy commute or the effects of taking medication.
  • You may wish to discuss regular or occasional working from home, especially if you are going through a particularly anxious time.
  • Explore the possibility of having a work-based mentor to help you settle in.
  • To mitigate any sensory difficulties in the work environment such as noise, heat or light, can the employer make adjustments such as using desk partitions in an open-plan office, telephones that light up rather than ring, noise-cancelling headphones, or desk low-lights?

Whilst in work

  • Be aware of any triggers that are affecting your mental health and be proactive in talking to your line manager before things get worse.
  • Try and keep work and personal life separate. Little things such as not checking your emails at home can help hugely.
  • Take care of yourself – this means taking regular breaks, eating well and exercising.
  • Don’t over commit and take too much on. If your workload is getting on top of you then do talk to your line manager and ask for help with prioritisation.
  • Talk to someone, be it your doctor, line manager, a colleague or someone in HR. Sharing how you’re feeling will ensure appropriate support is put in place to enable you to do your job.
  • If you are comfortable with disclosing your condition it may help you and others if you provided colleagues with some information or advice about how your condition affects you and what may make it better or worse.

Examples of adjustments whilst in work include:

  • You may wish to request specialist equipment to enable you to work from home or access to software which may help you schedule and plan your work.
  • Reviewing workload and requesting re-allocation of task, especially if you are feeling unwell.
  • Blocking noise by requesting headsets, access to natural day light by sitting next to a window or mitigating anxiety by asking for a dedicated parking space.
  • If you are comfortable with disclosing your condition it may help you and others if you provided colleagues with some information or advice about how your condition affects you and what kind of things make it better or worse.

The full version of this resource is available to all AGCAS members (i.e. university careers services), and can be found at
https://www.agcas.org.uk/Task-Groups/disability/Content .

Other useful Resources:

  • Doc Ready – an app that helps you plan how you disclose your mental health difficulties to a doctor.
  • Sam-App – an app designed to help you manage your anxiety.
  • TargetJobs Diversity – useful advice on disclosure and finding disability friendly employers.
  • Mindful Employers – list of employers who have signed up to The Charter for Employers who are Positive about Mental Health.
  • Mind – have excellent resources such as information about the different types of mental health conditions, and tips on how to ensure positive mental health in the workplace


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