Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace


Andy Leask, chairman of Rodgers Leask, comments on a current hot topic.

MENTAL health awareness has suddenly become headline news with senior members of the Royal Family, celebrities and politicians all having their say.

The subject came very much onto my personal radar with the shock discovery that our youngest son had taken his own life in October 2015, after only a few weeks at Bristol University.

I have become more involved with mental health in the workplace through an Institute of Directors initiative to open a conversation for small and medium sized businesses to consider the issues

This has helped my understanding of the issues and focussed my attention on steps we can take in the workplace to support our people – most of our70 employees are based in the head office.

I recently attended a Government Review of Mental Health and Employers – SME workshop, which gave me a great opportunity to express my views and to hear those of the experts.

My own definition of good mental health is: our mental processes support the things we want and need to do, to a standard which we find satisfactory.

People struggling with mental health issues generally don’t show any physical signs, which makes it easier to hide problems and harder for others to identify and understand.

They hide issues because of the stigma surrounding mental health and simply because they want to feel and be seen as ‘normal’.

But there are still things we can recognise that might indicate mental health issues. These could include any or all of these at work:

  • Increased absenteeism
  • Lower performance
  • Anxiety about simple things
  • Changes in social interaction
  • Persistent tiredness
  • Changes in other habits

Historically our business has been reactive to mental health problems, only dealing with issues as and when they arose, probably similar to most small/medium businesses.

So how we can be more proactive in business?

In my view, writing systems and processes is not the answer – putting people into a defined process is more likely to have an adverse effect and would potentially discourage people from engaging with their employer. We have to be flexible.

  • There are some simple things we can do in the workplace:
  • Provide a safe, clean, well lit and ventilated environment
  • Encourage people to take proper breaks (without feeling guilty)
  • Promote healthy eating and drinking, with healthy food and drinks available

Ensure that people are not stressed by continual tight deadlines and performance requirements

I have frequently been told there is ‘a lot of support out there’. But how does a business know what help to ask for?

I suggested to Bristol University that students should be given an app when they register, which contains a HELP button. If they are in crisis they would simply press it and an appropriate person would respond.

Businesses may benefit from a similar system. The big HELP button would be used by the business, or employees, in the event of a crisis. The small HELP button would open up a series of options to direct the user to the support they require at that time.

We have a long way to go, but at least the profile of mental health has been raised now and we are on the journey.