Talking Mental Health with young people How to broach the conversation (6)

Mental Health in the workplace: Why the difficult questions have reached the office

October 16, 2022

Increasingly in the last decade, more workplaces have started having difficult conversations with their employees. The stigma around mental health issues is slowly lifting, and now many businesses are trying to align their company policies with the new way of working. But what exactly has prompted this movement?


Change from the top

The more research is done into mental health, the more is uncovered about existing employee stress levels and anxiety in the workplace. And as we gain the language to talk about these issues, we begin to notice the effects in greater detail. The words to talk about these issues begin to seep out of the cracks and into everyday usage. 

In November 2011, a very noticeable crack appeared when UK trade began falling sharply on the London Stock Exchange. The trigger event was quickly related to a news article about the Chief Executive of Lloyd’s, who had undergone extreme fatigue and was currently on medical leave. According to an interview with the Chief Executive, he’d spent months with very little sleep, a fact that he’d tried to disguise. The end result was a massive curtailing of trust in his company and a sudden, dramatic withdrawal to a medical facility, prompting the fall in trade.


Lessons learned from life

While not all instances of mental health in the workplace have such dramatic consequences, research on mental health conditions and their knock-on effects has produced some startling results. The last poll taken in 2013 estimated that $13 billion was spent by Australian businesses nationwide, covering for lower rates of productivity and absenteeism due to mental health issues. This cost is also linked to the stress of working overtime or being forced to complete tasks in an unreasonably short period, costing companies more in the long run. 

Overall, it’s hard to figure out the cost of mental health solutions for businesses because it requires knowledge of many factors following and leading up to the solution. However, the fact that there is a problem that needs urgent tackling has become clear to businesses and health professionals alike. 


The Jones’ advantage

We’re now in the second stage of the typical adoption period, where companies are beginning to copy those who first started innovating in the mental health sphere. The typical ‘silence’ surrounding mental health talk in the workplace has slowly shifted as the financial and cultural necessity for a change programme has become evident. 

These changes can be seen throughout. Companies are considering candidates based on their ability to fit in and positively influence the team, monthly meetings include mental well-being catchups, and the cultural values of businesses are switching to include customers and employees. Fortunately, necessity has started to turn the table on the old outlook that staff are expected to ‘work hard and be grateful at all times’. Even the word ‘staff’ is finding itself replaced with the more positive word ‘team’ as companies update their outlook and language.


More than just words

The downside to all this has been that some businesses simply make cosmetic changes without real effort at rethinking their existing problems. The real effort is spent on marketing the fact that a change has occurred while the company continues to operate as normal.

Fortunately, in a world of billions of connected individuals and shared information, making only marginal changes has become harder to get away with. Those slow to react or even notice mental distress risk facing internal issues and public backlash. 

In short, it costs less to do the right thing from the start.


Becoming proficient in workplace mental health

So far, this article has highlighted some big changes in attitudes surrounding mental health and why workplaces are being pushed to make a change. However, that isn’t to suggest that you reading this article are part of the problem or that you necessarily have 101 skeletons in your company’s closest. 

For the most part, especially for small to medium-sized businesses, the desire to improve mental health is about making the company and the individuals in it happier and healthier. By acknowledging that your business is a place where difficult conversations can be had and by actively promoting good mental health practices, you produce more effective, productive employees. It also gives you a means to look out for those you care about in the office, the people you see and work with daily. 


Mental Health First Aid

Getting familiar and proficient with this spikey subject is something that takes time, practice and skill. There are a variety of signs to look out for and techniques for dealing with them, as well as action plans for making sure you’re across all employee-related health problems. 

MHFA training is a two-day course that certifies you as a Mental Health First Aid responder, someone who can recognise and approach others concerning their mental distress. While it doesn’t qualify you as a licensed mental health practitioner or doctor, it does give you the skills necessary to handle delicate situations before professional help can be found. If you’d like to book a course for yourself or your senior team, you can find one of our available courses here. As an MHFA training provider, we offer courses specific to workplaces, available as online, blended or face-to-face learning. 


Sources cited:

  • Jacobs, Rose. “Why Business Is Finally Talking About Mental Health At The Top” in Forbes. Date Published: 10th October, 2014. Site Link:
  • McGee, Patrick. “The women calling out Apple’s handling of misconduct claims” in The Financial Times. Date Published: 4th August, 2022. Site Link:
  • Ryan, Peter. “Mental illness costing Australian economy $60b a year, research shows” on ABC News. Date Last Updated: 4th October, 2019. Site Link:
  • van Eys, Patti. “Workplace Mental Health: The True Cost to Employers” on Pathways. Date Published: 4th January, 2022. Site Link:

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