You need key support structures in place to make you a decent and humane employer, to fulfil what the law states as your 'duty of care'.
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UK law states that employers have a 'duty of care' to their employees. This has existed since the Health and Safety Act 1974, which states that "it shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all of [its] employees". This now includes mental as well as physical health.
However, it's incredibly vague.
As we saw in the last section on legal requirements, the tangible legislation stemming from this is pretty minimal. Abiding by the two specific legal requirements set out for companies isn't enough. Being a decent and humane employer means doing a bit more.
Specifically, we think it means you should do two things at the very minimum in order to be a humane employer:
We'll look at the need to survey employees first.
Just as with taxes, so with poor employee mental health: ignorance is no excuse for inaction.
This is why all companies need to take the pulse of how employees are feeling, and how their mental health and wellbeing is at the moment. Without data, it's easy to do nothing — or to prioritise the wrong thing.
To measure employee mental health and wellbeing effectively through a questionnaire, you need a few things.
What 'right' means depends on what you want to assess. Do you want the questionnaire to be more robust and identify the most severe cases, or do you want to get a general lie of the land when it comes to how people are feeling? Do you want it to be quantitative so you can track a number over time, or are you more interested in picking out the qualitative themes?
The classic questionnaire used by medical professionals is what's known as PHQ-7 GAD-9, but it's aimed at diagnosing people who've sought professional help, so is probably too severe for a whole-company questionnaire.
Here are some broader ideas for agree/disagree statements if you want a quantitative questionnaire. Score each from 1 to 5, 'strongly disagree' to 'strongly agree', and mark any as a red flag if the average score of all employees on that question is below 3.
Here are some suggested open-ended questions if you'd prefer a qualitative questionnaire, where you can code the responses and group by theme to get a heat-map of what the most pressing problem areas might be. It's best to keep qualitative questionnaires shorter, as each question typically takes more time to fill out.
This depends on the internal culture — for example, are people wiling to share how they're feeling publicly, or willing to be followed up with if they're not feeling great, or is it best to keep it fully anonymous? — and also on the internal tools you already use.
If people are used to using Typeform or Polly or another particular tool, then it probably makes sense to stick with what people know. Unless you think a totally separate tool might be more confidential, if multiple people in your company are admins on Typeform, for example. It also depends on your budget: there are slicker survey tools available, but they cost more.
"How often should I survey my staff's mental health?" risks becoming a "how long is a piece of string?" sort of question. We recommend surveying employees quarterly as a benchmark, but if your company's industry or structure makes it more susceptible to poor employee mental health, then it might be worth more frequent measurement. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a list of questions (that we've adapted) to ask yourself in order to identify if employees in your organisation is at higher risk of poor mental wellbeing:
If you answer 'yes' to four or more of these questions, then your company is at higher risk and you should think about surveying your employees more often than quarterly.
Furthermore, drastic changes to how we work and live are happening incredibly quickly at the moment, so it might also be worth having some flexibility around cadence. Big changes in the world can have a sudden impact on people's mental health, so it might be worth sending out another survey if COVID restrictions change again, for example.
Risk of work-related poor mental wellbeing isn't always evenly distributed in organisations. Certain roles or levels might be more susceptible, and it might be worth checking in with them more frequently. HSE also has a list of questions to ask yourself in order to identify if a certain role is at higher risk: