Last updated: 17.06.24

Mental Health in the Workplace


The workplace has come a long way over the last 10 years in recognising the importance of employee mental wellbeing. Since the pandemic, this has been highlighted as even more significant, with many organisations across the globe moving to a remote working or hybrid working model.

Mental health problems cost the UK £117.9 billion annually according to the Mental Health Foundation. And for every £1 invested in mental health and wellbeing, organisations save up to 18% of their costs. By taking mental health and wellbeing in the workplace seriously, the benefits can be remarkable.

Mental health is increasingly recognised as being just as important as physical health, but there are still many ways in which we can all do better in terms of helping our friends, family and colleagues with theirs. 

In this article, we highlight everything employers need to know about mental health in the workplace. We begin by defining mental health and why it’s important in today's working environment. This guide will then dive into 5 ways to improve mental health in the workplace and provide further insight into how you can support mental health in the workplace. 

What is Mental Health?

WHO defines mental health as “a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community”. 

Put simply, mental health is the way we think and feel, it’s our ability to deal with life’s ups and downs. Mental health is something that everyone has, it gives us a sense of purpose and direction and allows us to enjoy the things we love doing in day-to-day life. 

However, when someone is suffering from poor mental health, this can have a massive impact on their productivity and motivation. There are several causes of mental health problems and distress; it can be work-related, personal or the onset of a chronic mental health condition such as depression

Why is Mental Health in the Workplace important? 

Time off work is one of the biggest knock-on effects of poor mental health, with stress in particular costing thousands of hours of productivity to the UK workforce every year. The Mental Health Foundation found that 1 in 6.8 people experience mental health problems in the workplace. This is crucial to acknowledge, as better mental health support in the workplace can save UK businesses up to £8 billion annually.

There are also general productivity and workplace harmony issues that can arise when employees are facing mental health issues. The charity, Mind reported that more than 1 in 5 (21%) agreed that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them. 

Likewise, the average time off work for anxiety is estimated at 6.3 days per month which has severe occupational impacts. The more time employees take off due to stress, the more productivity can be affected, so it’s in your best interests to ensure that you have your employees’ well-being at the top of your list of priorities.

Top 5 Ways to Improve Mental Health in the Workplace 

Many mental health issues are created and impacted by a person’s work, which means that you can take steps to help ensure that these aren’t an issue. If you create a supportive company culture and give your employees every chance to work with good mental health, then you’ll find that problems don’t crop up as frequently, and you’ll reap all the benefits of a happy, healthy workforce.

Below, we highlight 5 ways to improve mental well-being at work as an employer. From prioritising mental health to implementing best practices, there is a lot you can do to improve working conditions and create a thriving workplace. 

See Mental Health and Wellbeing as a Priority

Mental health and well-being are now part of many organisations’ health and safety policies. With hybrid and remote working fast becoming the norm, employees can often feel isolated working away from their colleagues, which is why the mental health of staff should be a priority for all businesses.

The government produces a series of mental health at work policies and guidelines that support well-being in the workplace – but these need careful implementation. All policies need the support of managers to create a plan for how to use them and how to read the signs of employees struggling with their mental health. 

Having an open dialogue with teams and ensuring managers are supported is a crucial first step in creating the right culture for mental health and well-being welfare. There are foundations and charities providing mental health resources and support to employees. Managers can also ensure a good work-life balance for employees to help reduce work-related stress.

Take a Proactive Approach to Mental Health with Your Employees

Anticipate issues and address them with teams and employees. This is more effective than waiting for employees to come to you and having to be reactive. By tackling mental health in the workplace early, you can avoid facing problems later down the line. 

A proactive approach should start with a conversation or a short employee survey. You can then incorporate other methods like an eLearning campaign or a series of podcasts. Giving employees access to apps such as Headspace and other social tools could also be used to help them prioritise their own mental health. 

Get Better Insight into the Benefits of Mental Health in the Workplace

Positive effects on performance can and should be measured. Find ways to look into this so you can do more of what works! For example, coming into the office for meetings or having catch-ups with employees outside of your workspace or a coffee in a different environment can really help reduce stress and anxiety, resulting in better relationships and stronger conversations.

Collaborate with other team managers to get insight into how they are managing their staff and find solutions that would work with HR. For example, having a sports and social club that is run by the staff for the staff. 

Doing so will make your organisation a meaningful place to work, where friendships are formed and not just where business is done. This can really help engagement amongst the staff and allow employees to look forward to key social dates – as well as improve collaboration across different departments.

Measure the ROI of Your Well-Being Strategy

Achieving a holistic, inclusive wellbeing strategy, that incorporates mental health, is a challenge that many employers grapple with. Becky Thoseby, Department for Transport’s Group Head of Wellbeing, asked employees to define what wellbeing means to them - creating a person-centred approach to make well-being truly inclusive.

It means that we can offer each individual what they need for their own condition and circumstances, rather than seeing them through the lens of one issue.

Becky Thoseby, Department for Transport’s Group Head of Wellbeing

Some symptoms of mental illness can manifest themselves as poor performance at work, missing deadlines, and failing to get work done. However, by having a clear element of expectations for the employee to share their thoughts on their own well-being, the employer can act as a facilitator and enabler, to help resolve the issues.

Use Mental Health Best Practices 

The entire business world is striving to learn and benefit from best-case examples of what works to address mental health in the workplace. The truth is, that no one team or individual employee in any given company will have the exact same mental health challenges (causes, coping mechanisms or even the factors contributing to the mental wellbeing at work) as another. So, all cases are unique.

For that reason, a company must create a culture of sharing what is working, what doesn’t work and what works best in each given scenario. Also, there will be new ideas that help drive change that will work one year, but not the next. This can be as a result of changes to working patterns or locations as we’ve seen through the pandemic. So it is a constant cycle of improvement that must be shared openly within the company and with their employees.

Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace 

Now that you have a good understanding of how to improve mental health in the workplace, it is important that you also know how you can support your employees when they face challenges with their mental health. From changing working conditions to offering guidance for long-term support for mental health, there are so many ways that you can be a champion for your employees when it comes to well-being.

Promoting well-being in the workplace is vital to ensuring the happiness and effectiveness of your workforce. Below, we highlight some of the best ways to support your staff and create a more sympathetic working environment. 

Creating a supportive environment

Many employees can be scared to tell their manager that they are suffering from a mental health problem, which can spiral into further issues. As an employer it is important to communicate to your workforce that mental health is treated the same as physical health, so being forthcoming with your communication can help people feel safe enough to share.

Some other examples of creating a supportive environment include ensuring that employees have regular one-to-ones with their managers to encourage sharing, arranging mental health training workshops or encouraging mental health “champions” across the organisation to encourage conversations.

The Importance of a Good Work-Life Balance

Achieving a good work-life balance is one of the main factors that can have an impact on how happy a person feels, and as an employer, you have a great degree of control over this. We have seen how the pandemic has affected work and life balance across the world with hybrid working becoming the norm. Some businesses have even returned to a full-time onsite working pattern which was a huge step for many people whose mental health was affected by multiple lockdowns and restrictions on socialising.

It can be tempting to squeeze all the time out of your employees that you possibly can, but this just isn’t effective in the long run. So, it’s important to change and adapt your workplace policies to reflect a flexible working environment that suits your organisation with your employees in mind. Building a culture where employees feel trusted to meet their objectives without being restricted to their desks is also fundamental in balancing work and home life.

Model Healthy Behaviours

For managers especially, this can have a profound effect on their team’s positive mental health. Modelling healthy behaviours that prioritise self-care and the ability to set boundaries can have a positive effect on team members, but also on managers themselves. Sometimes they can be so focused on their employees’ well-being that they often forget about their own. 

In a world where working from home is normal, managers can share examples of this with their team such as taking a lunchtime walk or turning their emails off whilst on holiday. It can encourage employees to develop healthy positive habits, leading to an improvement in mental health in the workplace.

Learn to Spot the Signs of Poor Mental Health

It’s not always easy to know whether your employees have a problem with their mental health, which means that it’s worth taking the time to understand some of the main signs. Mental health problems that affect the workplace are certainly not always caused by work, so you might not know there’s anything wrong until you see such a sign.

The best way to spot a potential problem is by keeping an eye on your employees and noticing if they have significant changes in behaviour. Some of the most common signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Irritability
  • Lateness and absence
  • Lower productivity
  • Distraction
  • Confusion
  • Low levels of engagement
  • Changes in working patterns
  • Withdrawal from social situations

It’s important to note that someone displaying one of these signs is not necessarily dealing with a mental health issue, but rather that these are potential signs.

Find Solutions

If you believe that one or more of your employees is facing mental health difficulties, offer some solutions that may help them. Many employers don't realise the effect that they can have just by making some small changes.

The most important thing that you can do initially is to sit down and discuss the issue with the individual. Explain the situation from your point of view, and explain that you’ll support them however you can, in a way that suits them and their needs. 

If the individual is struggling due to workplace issues, then you have it in your power to remedy the issue and make adjustments to their workload. If the underlying problems are from outside work, then consider the ways in which you can be flexible that may help the individual. Could you give them a different working pattern? Can you recommend a service that might help them?

FAQs about Workplace Mental Health

What is the legal position on mental health? 

Employers have a mental health duty of care to their employees and this has been outlined by the UK government. The Equality Act 2010 includes a range of mental illnesses that can legally be classed as a disability. If you have an employee who meets the criteria outlined in the Equality Act, your organisation has a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate their specific needs. 

How does mental health affect work performance? 

Poor mental health can have a detrimental effect on work performance, which will impact your organisation as well as the effectiveness of your teams. When someone is suffering from mental health issues they may show decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, higher instances of errors and the inability to concentrate. 

What are the most common mental health issues in the workplace?

The most common mental health issues in the workplace are stress, anxiety and depression. A Champion Health employee survey found that 60% of working professionals experience mild symptoms of anxiety, highlighting the need for more understanding and compassion in the workplace. 


Overall, mental health in the workplace is a complex topic that can have a significant impact on your workforce and culture. Addressing mental health at work should not be seen as an obligation, but rather a strategic business decision. By creating a healthy work environment that prioritises well-being, employees are much more productive, have lower rates of absenteeism and can enjoy a harmonious workplace. 

There’s rarely a single solution when it comes to mental health at work, but always remember that as an employer you often have the power to help. 

At Virtual College, we offer detailed online mental health training and education for your workforce. Contact us now to see how we can improve mental health in your workplace or browse our latest mental health and wellbeing courses.