Mind Matters; nurturing mental health in the workplace

In recent years, the conversation around mental health in the workplace has gained significant momentum. The CIPD have reported an improvement in the awareness of mental health issues in the workplace, with increased employer awareness having risen to 51% from 31% in previous years.[1] While this is a positive development there is still room for improvement. Nevertheless, the steady increase suggests that employers and employees alike are recognising the importance of prioritising mental well-being alongside physical health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) define health as “a state of complete physical, mental, social wellbeing and not merely an absence of disease or infirmity.” Therefore, highlighting that a healthy work environment not only fosters productivity and creativity but also ensures the overall wellbeing of employees.

Understanding mental health in the workplace

Mental health is a state of mental wellbeing that enables people to cope with the stresses of life and encompasses emotional, psychological and social wellbeing.

The stress bucket is a good model for understanding stress and the different ways in which it can be addressed. According to this model you envision a bucket inside your body which collects all your stress. Events and day-to-day life such as finances, illness, work, home life and relationships add stress into the bucket. There will be occurrences where the bucket feels relatively empty and other times it might feel full. Bear in mind that everyone has a different sized bucket. Therefore, each individual’s level of stress is subjective and may differ from person to person. An incident or event that one individual may find stressful, another might find that it is not stressful at all or only slightly stressful.

If an individual is dealing with the usual stresses that we encounter throughout our lives it may become too much at times, to the point that the bucket starts to overflow. This can lead to a decline in their performance at work, fatigue, low mood, burn out and in the worst-case scenario depression.

1 in 4 people experience mental health issues at some point in their lives.[2] Consequently, if an employee’s thoughts, actions and feelings are impacted this can ultimately also affect their productivity, engagement and satisfaction levels. Factors such as job stress, long working hours, a high-pressure environment, a lack of work life balance and poor communication can contribute to a decline in mental health amongst employees. Employers should note that mental health issues are a major cause of long-term absence in the workplace.[3]

Good Stress vs Bad Stress

It is important to note that stress is not necessarily bad. There is a distinction to be made between good stress and bad stress.

Good stress is usually short term and can lead to an individual feeling motivated or inspired which in turn can increase their levels of productivity. For example, it can encourage them to successfully work towards a deadline or get a promotion.

In contrast bad stress is harmful and can cause people to feel run down or burnt out which could result in a decline to their mental and physical health.

The impact of mental health on productivity

Research consistently shows that mental health issues can have a significant impact on productivity and performance. In the UK, it is estimated that around 30 – 40% of the sickness absence is attributable to some form of mental illness[4] with evidence suggesting that that 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions.[5] Mental health problems such as stress, depression and anxiety also contributed to a significant number of days of work lost. New research has shown that 17.1 million days per year are lost to mental health conditions.[6]

In addition, a recent report has found that almost half of UK workers are ‘running on empty,’ with burnout, mental ill health, and work-related stress now costing the economy £28 billion annually.[7]

The statistics suggest that employees experiencing mental health challenges are significant and has continued to increase over the years. Absenteeism and presenteeism – when employees come to work but are unable to perform at their best – can lead to decreased efficiency and therefore, increased costs for employers.

Employees have also reported an increased intensity in the workplace and feel as though they face more significant pressure at work. A study revealed that 55% of workers felt that work was getting more intense and demanding. Additionally, 61% of workers said they felt exhausted at the end of most working days.[8]

Furthermore, Deloitte has reported that 64% of managers have considered quitting for a job that would better support their wellbeing.[9]

This prompts the question: what further steps can employers take to mitigate mental health challenges in the workplace?

Creating a supportive work environment

Employers can play a crucial role in cultivating a supportive work environment that prioritises mental health by taking the following steps:

  • Promote open communication

Encourage open dialogue about mental health issues and create channels for employees to express their concerns without the fear of stigma and judgment. This may include setting up anonymous feedback systems, regular check ins and mental health awareness workshops.

  • Provide resources and support

Offer access to mental health resources where possible such as counselling services, employee assistance programmes (EAPs), and mental health hotlines. Raising awareness within your workforce about the available resources and how they can access them confidentially is a positive step to creating a culture that prioritises mental well-being.

  • Establish a work life balance

It’s essential that employers encourage a work-life balance. This can be achieved by implementing flexible work arrangements, promoting time off and setting realistic workload expectations. Urge employees to prioritise self-care and engage in activities outside of work that promote well-being.

  • Training and education

Provide training for managers and supervisors on recognising the signs of mental distress, how to respond empathetically and lastly how to support employees in need is a pivotal step in mitigating mental health concerns within their teams. Equipping employees with stress management techniques and coping strategies through workshops and training sessions is also a valuable approach to promoting mental well-being within the workplace.

  • Normalise mental health conversations

Create an open culture where discussing mental health is normalised and supported. Share personal stories of resilience and recovery, celebrate successes in mental health initiatives and actively challenge stigma and the misconceptions surrounding mental illness.

  • Lead by example

Leaders and managers can lead by example through prioritising their own mental health and modelling healthy behaviours. Encourage breaks, discourage overworking and demonstrate empathy and support for employees facing challenges.

Movement: Moving more for mental Health

This year’s mental health awareness week theme is, “Movement,” highlighting the profound impact that physical activity can have on mental wellbeing. Incorporating movement into our daily lives is not only beneficial to physical health but it is also essential for nurturing our mental wellness. Whether it is taking a walk during lunch breaks, practicing yoga (which has been shown to alleviate depressive symptoms) [10] or engaging in team sports. Movement helps to reduce stress, improve mood and boost cognitive function.[11] Movement is also known to stimulate the release of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters [12] that promote feelings of happiness and relaxation. Additionally, physical exercise can provide a distraction from work related stressors.

Please be reminded that “mental illness… occurs when our mental health is compromised or neglected for so long that it affects our ability to function in our everyday life.” [13] Prioritising mental health in the workplace is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic business decision with an ‘average £5 return for every £1 spent on wellbeing support’.[14] So, “there is no question that workplace wellness is worth it. The only question is whether you are going to do it today or tomorrow.”[15] An organisation that can create a workplace where employees feel valued, supported and empowered to thrive both personally and professionally, is an organisation more likely to succeed.

This mental health awareness week, let us recognise the power of movement in promoting mental health and strive to integrate physical activity into our daily routines for a healthier body and mind. Let’s ‘move’ for our mental health!



CIPD < https://www.cipd.org/en/about/news/cipd-mental-health-week/> [accessed on 19.04.2024]

Mental Health in the Workplace, CIPD <https://www.cipd.org/en/knowledge/factsheets/mental-health-factsheet/> [accessed on 19.04.2024]


O’Leary, L. 1993. Mental health at work. Occup Health Rev 45:23-26

Mental Health at work statistics < https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/statistics/mental-health-work-statistics> [accessed on 19.04.2024]

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Burnout, stress and mental ill health running rampant in UK by Nic Paton 3 Apr 2023 < https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/burnout-stress-and-mental-ill-health-running-rampant-in-uk/> [accessed on 18.04.2024]

TUC: Work Intensification Report, July 2023

Deloitte: As workforce well-being dips, leaders ask: What will it take to move the needle? 2023 <https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/insights/topics/talent/workplace-well-being-research.html> [accessed on 18.04.2024]

Harvard Health Blog, How simply moving benefits your mental health  <https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-simply-moving-benefits-your-      mental-health-201603289350 >[accessed on 23.04.2024]

Sharma A, Madaan V, Petty FD. Exercise for mental health. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2006;8(2):106.

NHS Blog, Movement is Medicine  <https://www.england.nhs.uk/blog/movement-is-medicine/> [accessed on 23.04.2024]

Kati Morton, licensed therapist, author and public speaker

Deloitte, Mental health and employers report, the case for investment pandemic and beyond – March 2022 <https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/consultancy/deloitte-uk-mental-health-report-2022.pd> [accessed on 19.04.2024]

Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway