9 Ways to Promote Employee Mental Health This Blue Monday and Beyond
Are you feeling glum this Monday? There may be a reason. Popular wisdom tells us that the third Monday of January — ‘Blue Monday’ — is the saddest day of the year.
Now, before we go much further, we should mention that this term was coined by Sky Travel in 2005 as part of an advertising campaign. Although they claimed to have calculated the date using an ‘equation’, there’s probably not much science behind it.
But it is true that many of us feel a bit gloomier than usual at this time of year. Maybe it’s the dull and dismal weather. Or the fact that the fun and festivities of December are over for another year.
Whatever the reason, it’s also a good opportunity for HR teams to reflect on mental health across their organisations — and how they can support employees throughout the winter and beyond.
The business case for investing in employee mental health
It might seem strange to ask why employers should support their employees’ mental health. After all, it’s so clearly the right thing to do.
But there’s also a solid business case for making sure everyone is doing OK. Poor mental health leads to greater levels of absenteeism, decreased productivity and low engagement — all things that can do serious harm to a business.
In fact, according to the World Health Organisation, 12 billion working days are lost globally every year due to depression and anxiety alone. This costs the world’s economy a massive $1.2 trillion in lost productivity.
Put simply, looking after employees’ mental health isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a critical business imperative. And in many organisations, HR is in the driving seat.
9 real ways HR can support employee mental health throughout the year
While Blue Monday is probably just a marketing gimmick, your employees’ mental and emotional wellbeing are no joke. Here are nine ways HR Teams can support employees throughout the year:
1. Create a formal mental health policy
If you don’t have a formal mental health policy in place, now could be the time to change that. Just the fact that the policy exists sends an important message to your employees: that you care about them and their wellbeing.
So, what should your mental health policy include? First, it should state your commitment to helping employees to stay mentally healthy.
It should also detail how employees can access resources, and outline the specific steps that you’re taking as an organisation to protect employee mental health and to help those who need extra support.
Need some inspiration? Here are some examples of real companies’ mental health policies from employee enablement platform Zavvy. You can also download a very extensive template from the UK’s largest trade union, Unison, here.
2. Provide mental health training to managers and team leaders
Managers are not always effective at helping employees handle mental health issues — especially when many of them are at risk of burnout themselves. That’s why it’s crucial to provide managers with mental health training that helps them support both themselves and others.
And, according to research, more and more companies are taking this on board. In a 2022 survey, 68% of benefits leaders said that manager training was a core part of their company’s mental health strategy. In 2023, this skyrocketed to 93%.
What this training looks like is also important. The traditional approach involves e-courses that train managers to spot the signs of poor mental health and point employees to the right resources when they’re struggling.
But while this is useful, a more strategic approach is needed in 2024. For example, some companies are now training managers to manage in a way that avoids distress in the first place through careful work design and a focus on company culture.
3. Invest in employee wellbeing and mental health benefits
If you haven’t already, you should consider adding benefits related to mental health to your employees in 2024.
This could include free counselling or therapy, or a subscription to an app that allows employees to access resources at their own pace. Flexible working arrangements, which allow employees to craft work routines that work for their own mental health needs, can also be valuable.
It’s also important to properly signpost these resources to employees. In a survey from July 2023, 85% of respondents said they didn’t use their mental health benefits at all. And a big reason why was not knowing what resources were available or how to access them.
4. Select and train mental health champions
HR teams can provide vital resources, training and advice to help employees manage their mental health. But they’re also busy people. That’s why it’s important to supplement their work with mental health champions who work throughout the organisation.
Typically, these champions deliver wellbeing activities, provide support to employees and point them in the direction of the most relevant resources when needed. If you have the budget, you could hire people specifically for this position. But you could also ask existing employees to volunteer for the role.
Of course, setting up a scheme like this takes a bit of work. But it’s worth it if it means every member of staff gets the support they need. Need some help? The UK charity Mind has put together a guide to help you get started.
5. Destigmatise taking mental health breaks
Allowing employees to take ‘mental health breaks’ when they need them is a great way to show them that you care about their wellbeing as a whole.
Crucially, these breaks should be taken before employees reach crisis mode. The idea is to allow them to rest and look after themselves when they feel they’re approaching burnout — which can improve engagement and productivity in the long run.
Here’s the thing, though: it’s not enough to just update your leave policy. Because without the right encouragement, some employees simply won’t take mental health breaks, even if they need them.
As a minimum, you should regularly remind employees that the option exists — in your company newsletter, for example. You should also encourage company leaders, managers and your HR team to lead by example and take mental health breaks when they need to.
6. Ask managers to model healthy behaviours
It’s all very well HR saying that their organisation cares about employee mental health. But if people see managers working all hours, battling stress and burning out, they’re unlikely to take you very seriously.
As well as training managers to help others, you should also make sure they’re looking after themselves. Remember, this isn’t just for their benefit — it’s to model healthy behaviours for other employees.
In practice, that might mean:
- Leaving work on time
- Taking time out during the day for a walk
- Not sending emails at the weekend
- Taking mental health breaks
- Generally setting boundaries around work
When employees see managers doing these things to protect their work-life balance and mental health, they’ll understand that it’s OK for them to do them too.
7. Use pulse surveys to spot problems early
How do you solve a mental health crisis in the workplace if you don’t know you have a problem? Short answer: you can’t. That’s why it’s crucial to keep an eye on employee mental health so you can spot any dips before they become really serious.
Although it won’t fix everything, sending out a pulse survey with a few well-chosen questions can give you a general view of how employees are feeling. And doing this regularly can help you quickly spot any sudden declines in mental health.
8. Help employees recognise the signs of burnout
Most of the time, people don’t go from 100% fine to total burnout. If you know what to look for, there are usually signs that someone is heading in that direction. And you may be able to avoid a crisis if you spot them early.
But here’s the problem: most people don’t know how to recognise the signs of burnout in themselves — never mind their colleagues.
In 2024, you should train your employees on the signs of burnout so that they can seek assistance when they need it. If you’re not sure where to start, there’s a useful list on the website of the British Medical Association.
9. Create a culture of openness and sharing
If there’s one thing you can do to help employees look after their mental health at work, it’s to create a culture of openness, sharing and transparency.
Of course, this is easier said than done. But a simple way to start is by asking managers to schedule regular check-ins with their reports to find out how they’re doing. This is particularly important in the context of the recent rise in remote work, since these check-ins may no longer happen organically.
Encouraging employees to be open about their mental health will take time — a 2021 study found that 70% of UK adults would be worried about discussing their health at work.
But through leading by example, taking employee concerns seriously and being thoughtful about your communications around mental health, you can show employees that it’s safe to be themselves.
Want more resources on employee mental health? UK mental health charity Mind has put together a whole bunch of free guidance for HR and people managers, which you can find on their website.