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Mental Health

Why the way we support employee mental health is broken

In October 2020, the World Economic Forum declared the world to be in the middle of a mental health crisis. This wasn’t new information. People had been struggling with their mental health way before COVID-19 happened.

The World Economic Forum summarised the challenge –– and the opportunity –– well:

“Our world wasn’t set up to respond to mental health needs before COVID-19 – and it certainly isn’t now. Investing in mental health generates returns for ourselves, our communities, our businesses and our economies. It creates better physical health outcomes, stronger families and increases economic productivity.

Based on a study of the world’s 36 largest countries, it’s estimated that 12 billion productive days are lost each year due to depression and anxiety, at a cost of $925 billion.

Businesses have the power to create real change, through tackling workplace mental health and engaging in the global conversation around mental health in the workplace and beyond.”

The root cause of poor workplace mental health

Most organizations we speak to are already pretty clear that poor workplace mental health is a problem that needs addressing.

But it’s important to remember that poor mental health doesn’t just mean mental illness. Poor mental health manifests itself in many different ways –– stress, burnout, struggling with a personal issue but having to keep it under wraps, and much much more.

Research from the American Psychological Association found that workers dealing with change are 2X more likely to report chronic work stress. And if you’re a People Leader reading this, you don’t need us to tell you that change is perhaps one of the only things we can guarantee when we look at the future of our businesses.

All of these things are not only costing us productive days, but they come at a high personal cost to individuals and the teams around them too.

But the good news is, there is a solution –– and perhaps it’s more straightforward than we might think.

Health and Safety Executive identifies the main causes of work-related stress as a lack of managerial support, organizational changes, and a lack of role clarity, plus the obvious heavy workload and related pressure.

If we want to create happy, healthy, and productive workforces –– and a world that understands mental health and fitness and knows how to support it –– culture is the key and managers are the linchpins.

Deloitte research identified that when employers offered proactive mental health support like line manager training or coaching, they achieved a 6:1 ROI ratio.

When employers focused on organization-wide, culture-based initiatives, they saw an 8:1 ROI ratio.

The best options most people leaders have today aren’t focused on creating the type of culture that supports positive mental health

We are fortunate to work with a number of forward-thinking organizations. And having been asked by a number of customers if we could help them create a culture of trust and compassion that supports positive mental health, we took a good look at the mental health offerings available on the market today.

What we found was a huge gap. From what we can see, there are two main ways employers think about supporting positive mental health today.

Wellbeing benefits focus only on the individual and not the whole organization

Over the past year, we’ve seen unprecedented levels of investment in employee wellbeing. It’s awesome to see organizations offering access to benefits like meditation apps or gym memberships.

But the challenge with these tools is that they are very focused on individual experiences which aren’t for everyone.

They don’t set any expectations around culture or behaviors. They help people help themselves if they are one of the ‘enlightened few’ but they don’t make it easier for people to bring their whole selves to work or to speak up when they’re struggling.

And they don’t set a standard for the collective behaviors of employees or help people understand ‘how we do things around here when it comes to supporting positive mental health.

Organizations currently have very few ways to give every person the practical tools to help them do that. Ultimately we know that for culture change to stick, it has to be everyone’s job –– and while we think wellbeing apps are great, they don’t get us to that outcome.

Mental health first aid training and counseling services support serious conditions, but not everyday stress

It’s been good to see the rise in the delivery of mental health first aid training and to see so many organizations offer support like counseling services.

But oftentimes, these services sit at the other end of the spectrum for people with serious conditions who are struggling to cope.

They don’t necessarily help people manage day to day stress of juggling work and a family or help a colleague who is struggling with a breakup or working through grief, leaving a huge gap for everyone in the middle –– including those who might not quite realize they’re struggling.

These tools are brilliant at supporting people in times of crisis. The challenge is that they force knowledge about how to support someone who is struggling to get stuck in pockets, available only to people who go looking for help.

Leaders and managers are the linchpins to positive mental health at work

Every people leader we speak to says that helping leaders role model their own vulnerability is critical for creating a culture of trust and compassion where people can bring their whole selves to work.

But while half of people managers have been approached with a mental health issue, less than a quarter have been trained on how to respond.

And beyond even those issues, leaders and managers are in a unique position to identify if someone is struggling –– whether it’s with work or non-work-related issues. They have the power to help people manage their trade-offs and prioritize workloads, helping people to avoid burning out (including themselves). They can create clarity, focus, and structures that increase productivity.

And perhaps most importantly, their actions have the power to shape culture. They can role model vulnerability and encourage their teams to bring their whole selves to work. And oftentimes, they’re solely responsible for the happiness, health, and productivity of their teams.

In short, if we want to create a culture that supports positive mental health, we have to give our leaders and managers the practical skills to deliver on that promise.

Many organizations we have spoken to fear asking leaders and managers to become counselors in disguise.

We have been working with the UK’s leading digital mental health charity, Mental Health Innovations (MHI), for the past few years and love their unique framework which anyone can learn to unlock the door to more positive mental health for themselves and those around them.

The key? It’s not becoming a counselor. It’s developing eight critical skills for more supportive conversations.

Supportive conversations can unlock the door to a happier, healthier, more productive workforce

Mental Health Innovations are the charity behind Shout 85258 –– the UK’s leading textline for anyone who is struggling to cope.

Over the past three years, Shout has trained thousands and thousands of volunteers using a unique framework which has now been used in almost three-quarters of a million conversations with people who are struggling to cope.

The training they give their Volunteers centers on the immense power of a positive conversation. The conversations they have with texters in moments when they’re struggling have a huge and sometimes life-changing impact.

What’s fascinating about their formula for a great, supportive conversation is that it’s based on millions of data points.

So some skills, which seem simple, like “never start a sentence with why because it sounds judgemental” were developed not only using best practice in clinical psychology but also from analyzing a huge dataset that’s continually evolving. And this approach works. 87% of Shout texters find the service helpful and 74% say they feel calmer after their conversation.

We love MHI’s data-driven and practical approach to helping people develop these skills, using deep insights and methodologies from clinical psychologists and translating them into simple skills that anyone can learn and benefit from.

When we think about peer learning, we often think about ways to make learning more democratic and contagious –– helping people own the change they want to see and empowering them to spread the message across their whole organization.

That’s why we decided to partner with Mental Health Innovations to develop Mental Health Works –– a new digital training program to help employers better support their team’s mental health.

Introducing Mental Health Works – a new digital training program to help employers better support people’s mental health

We’ve collaborated to design a program that combines Hive Learning’s peer learning methodology with MHI’s proven model for supportive conversations.

The program will help people develop self-awareness about their own mental health and practice eight critical skills for more supportive conversations that will benefit them in every aspect of their work.

More than 90% of volunteers say this training helped them become a better listener, see things from others’ perspectives, and feel more comfortable dealing with difficult situations at work and at home.

All skills learned on the program are highly transferable –– they’ll help employees build rapport, help people with personal struggles like a breakup or grief, and talk about everyday work concerns like workload or difficult feedback.

As with all of our peer learning programs, Mental Health Works is available off-the-shelf and to customize, and is designed to be deployed on our peer learning platform which feels just like other social experiences people are used to accessing in real life.

And I couldn’t agree more with what my colleague, Victoria Hornby, the CEO of Mental Health Innovations, had to say about why peer learning is perfect for this type of program:

“For a sensitive and nuanced topic like mental health, we believe that peer learning adds value by getting everyone on the same page about what good looks like quickly, encouraging people to share stories and experiences, and creating a strong support network people can access even if they’re far apart from colleagues.”

We’ve collaborated with MHI to come up with a whole campaign management package that includes nudges, conversation starters, pulse checks and other engagement tactics –– all designed to spark conversation and turn learning into action. This means our customers can rest assured that they’re deploying a program designed by experts but tailored to their needs.

One parting thought: culture change has to be everyone’s job

There’s no doubt that leaders and managers are critical linchpins. They can no longer afford not to have the skills to support their own and their team’s mental health.

But ultimately we know that for culture change to stick, it has to be everyone’s job.

That’s why this program focuses on helping leaders, managers, and every employee develop those critical skills for more supportive conversations.

And it’s also the reason we’re excited that Mental Health Innovations will receive a percentage of every sale, which will go towards their work, improving the mental health of the UK population through the provision of digital tools, support and resources.

We look forward to continuing to work with them and helping many organizations create a culture of trust and compassion, one conversation at a time.

See a preview

You can see a preview of Mental Health Works here. Or do feel free to get in touch to request a demo: julia.tierney@hivelearning.com.

Sneak preview of Mental Health Works

More employers than ever are looking for ways to support positive mental health at work. And Deloitte research shows that when organizations focus on creating a culture of trust and compassion, they see 8 X ROI. We’ve partnered with Mental Health Innovations, the charity behind Shout — a free 24/7 text service for anyone who is struggling to cope — to create Mental Health Works. Mental Health Works is a new program designed to help organizations build a culture of trust and compassion, one supportive conversation at a time.

Access a preview of the content

Julia Tierney (she/her)

As CEO and a founding member of the Hive Learning team, Julia is the driving force behind the peer learning platform’s solutions for driving culture change at scale. She has led transformation efforts for a cross section of the world’s most powerful and forward-thinking companies.

Having masterminded the peer learning platform’s ‘14 Building Blocks for Turning Learning into Action’, Julia’s work is the reason 8 in 10 Hive Learning users put what they’ve learnt into action and are 10X more likely to form a learning habit.

Hive Learning has a client NPS of 74 and in 2019, won Learning Technologies Learning Organisation of the Year and Best Use of Learning for Business Culture at the Business Culture Awards.