When it comes to mental health in the workplace in the UK, the figures are far from positive. Poor mental health is costing the economy up to a staggering £99bn per year!  The direct cost to the employer is £42bn as a result of being present-but-not-functioning, absenteeism, and staff turnover.

Sadly there is still a huge stigma attached to people with mental health problems and those that are having difficulty coping live in fear of being found out and judged or even losing their job.

So what can companies do to change this?

At the top of the “to do” list is to generate a culture in which people feel safe.  To create safety there has to be both trust and transparency. It won’t come as a surprise that this is the foundation to creating open, caring and connected relationships which are key to good mental wellbeing.  This, in turn, increases innovation, buy-in and ultimately boosts the bottom line. This all sounds pretty straightforward, but it takes hard work and continuous input to establish this kind of culture, which brands the company as being one to work for.

Emotions are contagious.

Neuroscience has highlighted that emotions are contagious because we all have mirror neurons that pick up on the emotions of others. Those in leadership positions are under the spotlight 24/7 and employees are highly tuned in to them. Without being aware of it, people in positions of power who aren’t open, transparent, or lack empathy, will cause others to shut down and be fearful of discussing mental health issues.  It’s easy for one negative person to cause a cloud of distrust which can permeate throughout a company. Without good relationships, companies become toxic and they aren’t healthy environments to work in.

Yes, you can teach people to be happier and more productive.

To change the culture of your organisation, coaching and training in self-development and self-awareness is important to ensure that your leaders are bringing out the best in others. HR and executives may also need training in recognising and understanding the basics of mental health issues so that they can spot people who are struggling – and know how to deal with it appropriately and positively. Companies that offer psychological support create a culture in which people feel valued and cared for with employees that are far more likely to be loyal in the long term.

Stress is one of the major causes of mental health issues.

The latest research in neuroscience highlights the importance of taking regular breaks. This not only reduces stress, but it also helps productivity.  Employers need to understand that changing the vicious go-go work ethic will reap rewards with happier people who are ultimately more productive and innovative. Having break rooms where people can leave their workstation and relax by listening to music, playing pool, having coffee or meditating is one of the things that companies should consider. If you have space, you could even follow in Google’s footsteps and even have sleep pods! (Research shows that a well-rested brain will do double the work in half the time).

Relax, dammit!

I’ve lost count of how many executives I’ve coached who feel that they can’t relax after they leave the office, because work looms like a black cloud over their heads.  Establishing a Work/Life balance is imperative to maintaining good mental health and organisations need to re-think the unspoken expectation that people work fifty or sixty hour weeks. Having time to spend with loved ones, or a hobby is important to one’s wellbeing.

Establishing an open door policy where people feel comfortable enough to share their feelings; educating them to work smartly; and providing facilities that are truly supportive all go a long way towards creating a culture where people will want to work. Do it.