It's 2023. Not having a mental health policy isn't an option anymore.
But all organisations are different. So we give you the templates and options to build a mental health policy that makes sense for where your company is at right now.
What this guide gives you: a framework to help People leaders and senior management put an overall mental health policy in place at their organisation, by copying and amending various templates that we provide for specific policies, plans and initiatives.
What this guide doesn't give you: a tool to help diagnose or treat mental health illnesses in individuals.
In short, because people's minds are now the machine and (in certain cases) the product as well.
For pretty much the whole of history, people have worked predominantly with their hands.
Operating a blast furnace, hauling fish off a trawler or sewing leather panels onto car seats: in these cases, a person's psychological and emotional state has little impact on their ability to get the job done.
If that worker felt unheard or micromanaged or anxious, it wouldn't be nice, but the furnace would still keep blasting, the fish would still be unloaded, and the car seats would still get finished. Even as the mind whirrs, the hands can keep going.
But nowadays most people labour with their minds. Work has shifted to require interaction, creativity, charisma, directness, diplomacy and self-awareness as standard. The difference is not that the whole self is now allowed into the professional arena: it's that the whole self is now completely critical to business success.
And not only is looking out for employees' mental health key to effectiveness, but it's something we should be striving for morally — and, as we'll detail in this guide, in certain instances it's something we are required to address legally.
As the world continues to shift even more — towards remote work at the moment, and who knows where in twenty or thirty years time (universal basic income?) — one thing is clear: the companies that look after their employees as whole people, with minds and feelings and complications, will be the companies that stick around.
Mental health is a pretty catch-all term, and one that's often misused. The W.H.O. defines is as "a state of well-being in which an individual ... can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to contribute to his or her community."
When someone can't cope with the normal stresses of life, can't work productively, and can't contribute to their community, they are experiencing poor mental health. So when we talk about a 'mental health policy', what we really mean is a policy to help prevent and address poor mental health in our teams. Only once we have this in place can we think about the nice-to-have of encouraging positive mental health and wellbeing.
Poor mental health can be due to a diagnosed mental health illness, which around 17% of the UK adult population currently live with (like bipolar disorder or generalised anxiety disorder, for example), or due to poor mental wellbeing, which any of us can experience on any given day.
To further complicate things, the relationship between the two is not a spectrum but a quadrant: those with a diagnosed mental health illness themselves can experience differing levels of mental wellbeing on any given day, as can those without a diagnosis.
In other words, an employee can have a serious mental illness and — given the right support — can still thrive at work. Equally, someone with no diagnosed mental illness can seriously struggle — and even need extended time off or professional support — due to poor mental wellbeing.
A successful mental health policy is one that works for everyone, no matter where they are on this quadrant. It aims to ensure that the organisation:
(a) doesn't discriminate against people with mental illnesses;
(b) doesn't significantly impact people's mental wellbeing in a negative way;
(c) helps people experiencing poor mental wellbeing or a mental illness to get support.
When it comes to employee mental health and wellbeing, no two organisations are the same — factors like budget and current priorities can mean varying levels of support are possible — but there are some basic policies and provisions that all organisations should have in place.
Some are required by law, like an anti-discrimination policy and an audit of work stressors, and others are a fundamental moral responsibility, like having a mental health support plan and at least some training support or resources for managers.
Once these basics are up and running, only then should companies look to start initiatives to change the organisational culture, raise internal awareness around mental health or use progressive policies to boost the employer brand.
This guide will let you assemble your own overall mental health policy by copying and amending various specific policy templates, plans and initiative ideas — based on wherever your company is at right now.
Here's an overview of the policies, plans and initiatives we'll go through in each of the four sections:
1. Legal requirement: Do no active harm to people
2. Moral responsibility: Be properly equipped to help
3. Business need: Prevent a toxic & ineffective culture
4. Talent market attractiveness: Position the company as progressive
Without further ado, let's get started by looking at what a company's legal requirements are when it comes to mental health. See you on the next page.