Thought Leadership - Mental Health as a Basic Human Right in the Workplace? Author - Fiona Sanchez

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Lancashire Mind’s Fiona Sanchez shares her thoughts on this year’s World Mental Health Day theme: Mental Health is a Universal Human Right.

Exploring how this theme translates into workplace culture and asking; How does proactive inclusion, accessibility, and innovation within the workplace impact mental health as a universal right?

World Mental Health Day 2023

The theme this World Mental Health Day is, ‘Mental Health is a Universal Human Right’, but what does this mean in the workplace? It may suggest workplaces have an obligation to limit the risk of poor mental health experienced at work, but is that possible? It could also mean, workplaces should increase accessibility and inclusion, and recognise intersectionality within their workplace wellbeing offers.

So, what would this look like?

The CIPD Health and Wellbeing Report 2023 reported three key findings:

  • Employers need to keep employee wellbeing at the top of their agenda, 70% of respondents see their health and wellbeing activity as an opportunity to boost employee engagement.
  • COVID-19 continues to impact employee wellbeing with levels of sickness absence at their highest in a decade at 7.8 days per employee per year.
  • More companies are increasing their investment in female health, with almost one-fifth of organisations looking to introduce policies on menstrual health this year.

In the Workplace
Workplaces have given more attention to disability, men’s mental health, the impact of menopause, LGBTQIA+, and racialised ethnic minorities. We are also seeing a growing awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace and the different communication and learning styles of individuals.

At National Level
National campaigns such as ‘Bring Your Whole Self to Work’ from Mental Health First Aid England and events such as ‘National Inclusion Week’, founded by Inclusive Employers, raise awareness of and celebrate workplace inclusion. There is more awareness that employees should have the freedom to express themselves and have their identity acknowledged at work.

But what about the right to a workplace culture whereby you can express you are struggling, or you are experiencing challenges that are impacting your mental health, no matter your identity or your communication style?

How does proactive inclusion, accessibility, and innovation within the workplace impact mental health as a universal right?

Harvard Business Review 2021 reported that inclusion and the ability to bring your whole self to work (and not adopt a “work persona” that conceals your true identity) powers collaboration and innovation.

Leading organisations providing freedom to innovate are seeing 26% higher career aspirations among their employees. They are also seeing a 48% higher likelihood of self-disclosure among employees with disabilities.  , people are more likely to seek the help they need at an earlier stage.

However, despite proactive inclusion strategies within the workplace having a positive impact on the likelihood of self-disclosure, Harvard Business Review 2021 also reports that,

almost 60% of employees have never spoken to anyone at work about their mental health status. Suggesting that stigma around poor mental health is still a significant barrier to employees seeking support.

How can we promote an open culture around mental health in the workplace?  

  • Reflect on how we safeguard our own wellbeing and that of our team.
  • Taking the time to understand our team’s communication style and their needs and expectations from us as team leaders.
  • Dedicated one-to-one time to talk about work-life balance and understand the challenges our colleague is facing.
  • Lead by example and take time to reflect on our own workload, expectations of communication, and how we respond to workplace challenges.

Statistics suggest open and inclusive culture can vary significantly across different industries and organisations, with Talent Data Labs reporting workplace culture can differ drastically even between same-sector companies, Talent Data Labs.

It is a safe assumption that there is no quick fix in developing and establishing an open culture around mental health in the workplace. It may simply be a case of assessing what changes can be implemented to promote mental health discussions in the workplace, and accepting this will look different across different sectors and industries.

Some organisations will have the means and capacity to roll out extensive employee assistance programmes and train significant numbers of staff in mental health first aid. Whereas other companies or organisations may only have the capacity to ensure management is trained in basic mental health awareness and are able to signpost staff to the necessary support when needed.

The key is how these are communicated and accessed. Essentially an understanding and approachable line manager can be far more productive than an extensive employee assist programme that employees don’t know how to access!  

Regardless of means or capacity within our organisations, if workplaces have honest and open communication around mental health and wellbeing this will go a long way in providing mental health as a basic human right.

For more information about Lancashire Minds Workplace Wellbeing services visit:

Workplace Wellbeing and Training

If you have found this article useful and would like the opportunity to discuss more topics like this with like minded people, please consider joining our Lancashire Wellbeing Business Network:

Lancashire Wellbeing Business Network

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