Dublin, Belfast, Prague
ROI: +353 1 442 8793 - NI: +44 7756 321 898

How to improve mental health in the workplace

Mental health is one of the biggest health problems in Ireland, with 1 in 5 people suffering from depression at some point during their lives. Ireland ranks 4th in the EU for suicide rates among teens, yet, it’s still one of the biggest taboos. With 48% of the population openly admitting that they should make more time to open up about their mental health, embarrassment and fear are still the biggest factors stopping people from being open. So, for mental health awareness day, we want to do something about it by talking about mental health in the workplace.

We’ve done this post for World Mental Health Day, which is why we’re also donating €2.50 to Pieta House for every download of the e-book version we get.

Our story

As a company, mental health awareness has been something we’ve always been passionate about. We’ve experienced first hand what happens when you don’t look after your mental health in the workplace, and this was actually one of the reasons we set up Retro Digital. All of our team members have suffered with mental health issues at one time or another, and we’ve really seen the benefits of being so open about the struggles we go through. It’s the little things that really make all the difference, which is why we’d like to share them with you to help you create a ‘mental health friendly’ environment in your workplace.

Mental health in the workplace

With people spending so much time at work, it’s no wonder employees are so susceptible to work-related mental health issues. While most bosses will think that their workplace is perfect, it’s often not quite the case. While it may not be obvious, toxic workplace practices can be hidden everywhere, and sometimes all it takes is a small change to make a massive difference to your team.

What causes an unhealthy workplace

A W.H.O. study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the US economy 1 trillion USD each year in lost productivity, which is a massive amount. So, while work is good for your mental health, a toxic work environment is extremely unhealthy and can even lead to further health issues.

There are many different issues that can cause problems with employees’ mental health in the workplace, here are the main ones that you should be really keeping an eye on:

  • Lack of psychological support. As an employer it’s your job to take care of your team’s mental health. No matter what line of work you’re in, you need to make sure that you’re supporting your team members. What may seem trivial to you may be big to them. If you work in a particularly stressful area, you need to make sure that your employees have the right tools available to manage their mental health, e.g. therapy.
  • Poor communication and management. Managing a business is tough, but it’s something that’s vital you get right. You need to make sure that managers are managing, they’re not bullying or putting too much stress on people. While it may seem fair to promote someone who’s been with you the longest, having a bad manager is going to be much worse.
  • Inflexible working hours. While work is important, it really isn’t the be all and end all. Employees need to have a healthy work-life balance to thrive at work. Family is the most important thing, which is why it’s important that bosses give their team members flexible working hours so that they don’t feel too overwhelmed by having to juggle family and work commitments.
  • Overworking. If an employee is having to spend 12 hours a day in the office, take a look and see why. The chances are it’s not them being slow, they need extra support. You should never push your employees to do overtime as it’s not only unhealthy, it’s unfair. It’s your job as a boss to ensure that there are enough staff to cover the workload – it’s not the employees responsibility to suffer.
  • Clear expectations. You should always be straight with employees about what’s expected of them. If you’re not, stress can lead to anxiety, and anxiety will lead to mental health issues. Changing their scope of work is not healthy, and shouldn’t be done.
  • Respect. There is a lot that goes into respect in the workplace. Starting off with bosses – bosses need to respect everyone in the workforce, even the people at the very bottom. Without them, they wouldn’t be where they are today. While bosses may think that they’re showing they care, they might not be, so make sure you take the time to say thank you and well done to everyone. Then moving on to team members – you need to foster a supportive relationship between colleagues. Colleagues need to respect each other, respect rules, and everything should be fair. You’re not looking after your employees if you have favourites or if rules work for one person and not someone else. And finally – clients/customers. Your team needs to respect clients, but clients need to respect your employees, too. As a boss, it’s your job to stand up for staff members if clients are being unfair to them as this will ease stress no end.
  • Lack of health and safety procedures. If your team members don’t feel safe, they’re going to be stressed. You need to make sure they’re as comfortable as possible in the workplace and they’re not stressing about potential injuries. If they have issues, you need to fix them – not bully them into keeping quiet.

Mental health in the workplace


What workers have to say

When we set out writing this guide, we wanted to see what real workers/employees had to say. We did a survey and interviewed people across a wide spectrum of jobs, and we have to admit that the results were shocking. 66.6% of respondents said that they had suffered from mental health issues in the workplace. 46.7% said that they had taken a day off because of mental health issues, and a whopping 94.7% said nothing to someone at work, and just carried on when they had issues. Over 70% of respondents said that their workplace was not open about mental health, and even worse was that only 10% of employees asked said their employers actually did something about mental health in the workplace.

In 2018 this is not ok. Maybe employers think they’re doing something about mental health but it’s not reaching their employees? Or is there still too much taboo surrounding mental health? Or are companies just not sure how to go about mental health in the workplace?

How to create a mental health-friendly workplace

  • Take a long hard look in the mirror and check for anything that may be harming your team’s mental health. It’s not easy picking your company apart and looking for faults, but it’s really important you do. You need to make sure everyone is happy. You need to talk to everyone, not just managers, and be aware that employees will probably not feel comfortable being honest. While going undercover isn’t really possible, you could do an anonymous survey to get feedback from employees to find out what’s bothering them and where you can improve.
  • Understand the needs of employees. Find out what matters to each individual employee rather than having a one size fits all policy. By making small adjustments like letting Simon from accounts leave an hour early on Monday’s to pick up the kids, you’ll be one step closer to making a real difference to your employees lives.
  • Stop trying to be perfect, happy families don’t work well in big companies. The bigger your team gets, it’s impossible to have one big happy family. People are not going to get on, and there are going to be stresses. So rather than trying to force these perfect relationships, make sure you have rules that foster fair play between employees and break down cliques.
  • Value mental health. By starting at the top and working your way down you’re leading by example and showing employees it is OK to talk about mental health. Start by making sure that the way you do business supports a healthy work environment. Make mental health awareness guides and promote mindfulness in the workplace. Conduct surveys, and use the results to implement new policies.
  • Training. Make sure that you train managers in how to deal with mental health issues in the workplace and how they can support their team members.
  • Support. Make sure that employees feel supported and that they can speak to HR or access other forms of support like counselling if necessary. Also, make sure you support people who already have mental health issues. Remember – people with mental health issues make great employees, so don’t strike someone off just because they have depression. Have things like mental health days where employees can take a sick day if they’re overwhelmed. We do this, and believe us it’s never been abused.
  • Find out who has had mental health issues and make them ambassadors. People who have been through mental health issues are like gold. They’ll be able to tell you how to support people the best, and can relate to other people’s struggles.

What our survey revealed

When we did our survey, we asked what people would benefit from when it comes to mental health support and mental health in the workplace. They had some wonderful ideas, so to finish up we’d like to share them with you:

  • More awareness and directions. Educating HR and not whitewashing it.
  • More transparency and training so employers don’t look so shocked.
  • Increased awareness of mental health training within the company. Open communication and CBT sessions so people can deal with stress, anxiety and low mood in the workplace before it turns into a problem.
  • Coaching and a more emotional intelligence approach.
  • Having a work therapist
  • Treating everyone with the same respect
  • Mental health days
  • Create an environment of trust so employees feel they can talk to their managers about their problems. Be more open for unplanned days off, or be more open to supporting employees because people might be shy at the beginning.
  • Make sure that bosses are approachable and can be trusted.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, we hope it’s helped inspire you to help us change the stats on mental health in the workplace. Remember – we’ve turned this into an e-book for you to download, and we’ll be donating €2.50 to Pieta House for every download.