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One in four of us experience a mental health problem, typically anxiety, stress or depression. In 2018/19, for instance, 600,000 workers in the UK experienced workplace stress, accounting for 44% of work-related illness, both physical and mental. However, there is still a significant stigma surrounding mental ill-health, meaning most of us suffer in silence and do not access the help, guidance and support we need.
Promoting workplace wellbeing and creating a safe, secure and confidential environment in which to seek help can be tough. Here are 81 big ideas to help you turn your workplace into one that improves the mental, physical and financial wellbeing of your colleagues.
1. Institute a more casual dress code – although some people like wearing a suit and tie or Hillary Clinton-style trouser suit, allowing people to dress more casually—particularly if they aren’t in a client-facing role—can make people more relaxed, and therefore more productive.
2. Take mental health as seriously as physical health – make sure your employees know they can, for instance, take sick days for mental ill-health as well as physical problems.
3. Encourage employees to take breaks – All UK employees have the right to an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes if they work longer than six hours a day. Make sure they know this, an encourage your employees to take time away from their desks!
4. Discourage employees working long hours – as a society we’re moving further away from the ‘cult of productivity’, in which working absurd hours is seen as virtuous, so make sure your employees know that—except in rare cases—working long, tiring hours won’t benefit them.
5. Email switch-off policy – similarly, enforce an ‘email switch-off policy’ at evenings and weekends to help employees themselves switch-off. Certainly, don’t make career advancement being contingent on being constantly available (although, again, there are always exceptions, such as while trying to make a big sale).
6. Encourage lunchbreaks – try to discourage employees from eating at their desks, and make sure they’re taking their allotted lunch hour seriously. Never shame anyone for wanting to take a break from the workday.
7. Get people to go outside – time outside in the sunshine and fresh air is especially important for firms based in large, impersonal office blocks. Organise outdoor workspaces or simply encourage staff to take a short break outside—it can make a huge difference to wellbeing!
8. Get senior staff and executives to recognise good work – many employees will feel a huge confidence boost if they receive praise and feedback from senior executives. It helps them feel valued and that their standing within the firm is increased—encourage it!
9. Encourage leadership to speak out – change starts at the top. Encourage senior executives and leaders to speak about their own mental wellbeing; this has been proven to change company culture and encourage others to follow suit.
10. Make it easy to work from home – sometimes, it’s simply impossible to get the office, whether that’s because of illness, bad weather or train delays. Reduce the shame of working from home and provide employees with the tools to do so.
11. Reduce shame about time off – many employees will refuse to take time off from work in the event of illness—physical or mental. This can put them under unnecessary strain and risk worsening their condition, so make sure everyone feels comfortable taking time off.
12. Encourage openness – encourage your staff to talk openly about their mental ill-health. This helps to change internal culture and encourages people to seek help by reassuring them that they’re not suffering in silence.
13. Improve communication – workplaces with poor communication can quickly become stressful and cause the breakdown of relationships. Make sure people are communicating with each other, and that teams have access to the all the information they need.
14. Give managers training and guidance – managers need to have the skills and knowledge to respond to mental ill-health, to point employees in the right direction and to lead by example by acknowledging their own issues. They must lead the way when changing attitudes.
15. Raise awareness – too many people don’t understand mental ill-health, its implications, causes and solutions. Ignorance is widespread. It’s your job to spread the word, raise awareness and help people access the tools they need to tackle stress, anxiety and depression. Start the conversation!
16. Encourage work-life balance – work-life balance, although often dismissed by the older generations, is increasingly important. Make sure to provide training and guidance for people to manage their time, conserve their energy and leave their work behind at the end of the day.
17. Say thank you – saying thank you can change everything. For every piece of work submitted, every new deal signed, make sure someone is there to say, ‘thank you for the work’. It can make people feel valued and encouraged, and it’s simply a nice thing to do.
18. Celebrate your core values – make sure your employees are aware of your firm’s core values; this can help focus and engage them and make them feel part of a wider project. You can also make promoting workplace wellbeing one of those core values.
19. Take stairs instead of lifts – encouraging employees to take the stairs instead of the lift is a small way of improving their wellbeing, unless you’re working on the 15th floor of a building, of course.
20. Avoid unnecessary meetings – meetings are sometimes totally unnecessary, but nonetheless take up a significant portion of the workday, adding to an employee’s workload and stress level. If you can, replace meetings with emails or desk-side chats.
21. Enforce minimum holidays – require your staff to take a certain number of holidays per year to ensure they take time away from work. You may even have to force the issue by simply telling someone not to come in on a certain day, but a year of uninterrupted work is unhealthy.
22. Encourage scheduled breaks – a good idea to enforce regular breaks would be to get employees to put them in their diaries like they would a typical meeting. That way, they will receive constant reminders to step away from their work for a few moments.
23. Create a rewards scheme – reward hard work by giving employees fun perks, such as free cinema tickets. This gives them something tangible to work for, making them feel more valued in their jobs—a lack of visible progress can often lead to stress.
24. Give employees their birthday off – this is a nice, personal touch that lets your employees know they’re valued as individuals. Don’t offer it as a perk after five years of service, give it to them immediately!
25. Lay on some fruit and healthy food – whether bananas, apples or coconuts, putting out some fruit for employees to take every morning can be an enormous boost. It provides a much-needed sugar fix, helps encourage healthy eating and improves moods all around.
26. Introduce (optional) standing desks – provide employees an opportunity to get up off their bums for a few hours with adjustable standing desks. They’re a proven wellbeing boost.
27. Introduce plenty of natural light – natural light makes people feel better and helps reduce the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s unhealthy to work in a dark, poorly lit space for an extended period of time, so try and introduce bigger windows and skylights and remove any objects or walls blocking them.
28. Stick a few plants round the office – plants improve the air quality and add an important splash of colour to a workplace. Introduce plenty around your office, including flowers—accounting for any hay fever sufferers in the spring and summer months.
29. Offer both open-plan and closed options – people work better in different environments. Don’t force your employees to work in open, exposed areas if that makes them uncomfortable, instead offering optional partitioned desks to give them some privacy.
30. Provide ergonomic furniture – avoid backpain and improve posture in your staff by ensuring all chairs and furnishings are ergonomic, and give staff training to ensure they’re sitting correctly.
31. Balance the temperature – men and women work best at different temperatures, so make sure the room temperature is 1) balanced to provide the best for both; and 2) responds to the exterior temperature. Warm in winter, cool in summer.
32. Introduce a splash of colour – renovate your workplace with a splash of colour, chosen carefully to create a pleasant, relaxed and productive atmosphere. That means cool colours, rather than hot pink.
33. Give your office some personality – a drab, grey office isn’t improving anyone’s mood, so give it a bit of personality with unique decorations, comfortable furnishings, plenty of company branding and high-tech facilities. Make people pleased to work there.
34. Subsidise gym memberships – exercise is a proven way to improve wellbeing, so offering subsidised gym memberships to your employees can encourage them to improve their fitness, get that much-needed endorphin boost, and consequently improve their overall wellbeing.
35. Introduce a cycle to work scheme – get people out of their cars and into the saddle with a cycle to work scheme. Cycling is healthy, fun, and quicker than walking, and helps get cars off the road. Encourage it!
36. Have a proper ‘lunchroom’ – create a lunchroom to make sure employees aren’t working at their desks, to keep their lunch hour and their work hours properly compartmentalised. Make sure, if possible, there are options for eating alone as well as communally.
37. Encourage positive workplace relationships – tackle bullying and harassment, encourage teamwork and collaboration. Strong workplace relationships are essential.
38. Turn your workplace into a smart office – smart sensor that measure room occupancy, temperature, lighting levels and so on and then make adjustments based on that information can transform the wellbeing of your staff by automatically creating an environment that best suits them.
39. Improve air quality – air quality is a big contributor to workplace wellbeing, so investment in decent HVAC systems to keep clean, fresh air flowing. Your employers will breathe easier—and therefore work better!
40. Create an accessible office – create an office that people with disabilities, hard-of-wearing people and partially-sighted people can navigate around. They will, as a result, feel properly included within a team.
41. Reduce background noise – removing background noise such as loud printers or exterior traffic noise by insulating windows and putting up barrier around printer areas can make a huge difference to office quality-of-life.
42. Help employees access healthy food – some firms bring in chefs to teach employees some healthy recipes and cooking methods, while others introduce healthy snacks and fruit, and others still buy lunches once or twice a week to get people eating properly. A good diet improves wellbeing.
43. Order in lunch during busy periods – if everyone’s working hard to big deadlines, consider ordering lunch for the team. This will encourage them to take that much-needed lunchbreak, and reduce any potential added stress.
44. Have more meetings on the go – walking meetings aren’t just for the West Wing. In fact, they’re a simple way of getting staff out of their seats and into the fresh air.
45. Introduce flexible working – flexible working means giving your employees choice over when, where and how they work. This might mean switching their hours up to give them time to do the school run or working from home more often during school holidays. It can be a big boost, and let them fit their work around their other, more important responsibilities.
46. Introduce volunteer programmes – volunteering makes people feel good and gives them a valuable goal to work towards. It can also encourage teamwork and collaboration, and get employees out of the office.
47. Create a lounge for employees – creating a dedicated space for relaxation is a good way for employees to ‘compartmentalise’—i.e. the office is for work, the lounge is for breaks.
48. Offer financial wellbeing advice and guidance – one of the major drivers of workplace stress and anxiety is finance. Make sure you’re offering advice, guidance, support and flexibility to people worried about their finances, and provide a safe space in which employees can talk about it.
49. Keep HR educated – invest in education, career development and sending HR to events to make sure the people responsible for maintaining workplace wellbeing are up-to-speed with the latest advice, guidance and legislation, and have the tools and skills to promote an open, communicative atmosphere.
50. Offer sabbaticals – both reward and rest: give long-serving employees the opportunity to take a sabbatical for several months to recharge and recuperate so they can come back to work more productive than ever and feel as if they’ve been given flexibility and opportunity by their employer.
51. Peer support and buddy systems – if it’s easier for employees to talk to each other, rather than their manager, create support networks and buddy systems to encouraging communication.
52. Be available – if employees have nobody to talk to, it might fall to you to be the point of contact, at the very least to point them in the direction of the resources, guidance and assistances they need. Be open and available.
53. Provide access to counselling services – if possible, employ an in-hour counsellor or provide access to counselling services so that employees experiencing mental ill-health have a designated point of contact.
54. Offer your employees education and guidance – give your employees training and guidance to help them look after their health and wellbeing, and ensure they know where and how they can access help and support if they are experiencing mental ill-health.
55. Reward longevity and achievement – similarly, long-term employees will begin to feel a strain if they don’t feel their consistent performance and loyalty has been rewarded. Offer extra holidays, a celebratory lunch or even an award or trophy to mark five, ten, fifteen years of service.
56. Help prevent eye strain – encourage employees to look away from their computer screens every now and then and provide them with the knowledge of correct posture at their desks, so they’re not damaging their eyes through strain.
57. Offer health insurance – investing in private health insurance provides an obvious boost to employee health, but also lets them know their employers care about them.
58. Survey your staff – find out exactly what your staff’s wellbeing needs are by simply asking then. Then you can tailor your wellbeing strategy exactly to the unique needs of your employees and make them feel valued and cared for at the same time.
59. Guarantee career progression – people feel undervalued and quickly suffer from malaise if they’re not advancing in their careers. Make sure you’re constantly benchmarking employee performance, offering constructive feedback and a route to advance within the company.
60. Give employees mental health first aid training – mental health first aid is designed to train ordinary members of the public to spot the signs of mental ill-health and provide access to support. By appointing a number of mental health first aiders among your team, employees can help each other access the help they need most.
61. Offer even more maternity cover than mandated by law – research by the Mental Health Foundation reveals that women are more than twice as likely to suffer from mental ill-health at work then men. Part of this is the lack of support they receive when having children, and the subsequent difficulty they have returning to the workforce. Help women out by offering longer maternity leave (and paternity leave!).
62. Offer childcare assistance – Follow this up with subsidised childcare to help women return to the workforce, and then ensure they have flexible working options and proper career development plans so they don’t feel left out and supplanted by the men in the office.
63. Encourage employees to set goals – goals, both in terms of work and wellbeing, can be an excellence way of keeping people focused and engaged, and providing a path for career development.
64. Help employees quit smoking – smoking is bad in a number of ways, but quitting can be incredibly difficult. If you help your employees stop smoking by providing the tools and support they need, you can improve their health and wellbeing in a big way.
65. Start a wellness wall – employees can post wellness tips, advice and questions on a wellness wall, starting conversations and helping people learn from each other.
66. Organise fun team activities – a trip to the pub, a crazy golf day or another fun team activity—without the pressure of organised ‘team building’—can be the best way to promote cohesion and encourage positive workplace relationships.
67. Introduce Beer Fridays – fill a fridge with beer, wine and non-alcoholic options and distribute it to employees on Friday afternoon. It’s a nice, convivial way to end the week, and helps people wind down before the weekend.
68. Make the office ‘fun’ – add some fun features like beanbags and beachballs to give your office a constant sense of ‘fun’, and remove some of the stiffness and formality. Obviously, this isn’t for everyone, but certain offices would undoubtedly be improved.
69. Start a morning yoga class – yoga is fantastic exercise but can be low effort enough to get heartrates up without exhausting everyone before the day has begun. Try introducing it as a good fitness option for your staff.
70. Gamify wellbeing – introduce gamification, perhaps by setting challenges and goals and letting teams compete against each other to see which can register the highest step count, or by providing quizzes and questionnaires to track their wellbeing and provide a score.
71. Set up a games room – put out some table football tables, a dart board or a pool table in a dedicated room, and give employees a place to relax and chill out during lunch or in the evenings.
72. Give out branded merchandise – branded merchandise is fun and promotes brand loyalty. If people are using a company-branded mousepad every day, they’re probably going to feel as if they’re really part of the firm, which in turn makes them feel valued.
73. Have some ambient music playing – this might be a controversial one, so make sure to get your employees’ consent before you do it, but adding a bit of quiet, calm music to the office can relax your staff and cover up any distracting background noise.
74. Celebrate birthdays – recognising employees’ birthdays makes them feel valued and included and is a good opportunity for a few celebratory drinks. But make sure you’re not forcing anyone to celebrate if they really don’t want to.
75. Start a sports team – there are plenty of corporate sports leagues in cities like London. Why not join one? Start a football team, hold trials among your staff and encourage health and competition.
76. Provide a massage service – a nice touch would be to pay for a masseuse to visit the office and provide massages for stressed employees. This would keep them relaxed and ready to go.
77. Set fitness challenges – employees that are already regular runners or gymgoers could be set challenges and competitions, encouraging them to push themselves that little bit harder, and other employees to get involved.
78. Introduce napping – it may seem a bit ‘Silicon Valley’, but some firms are starting to offer sleep pods or nap rooms to encourage employees to take short snoozes during longer workdays.
79. Make your office pet-friendly – obviously this is not for everyone, but people seem to love pets—especially dogs—and letting your staff take a dog or two with them might improve everyone’s mood. Just make sure to watch out for allergies.
80. Start a book club – reading is a good, healthy, wholesome activity and a book club can help people relax and engage with each other in a friendly, collaborative atmosphere. It encourages good workplace relationships and gives everyone something to talk about.
HR managers need to adopt a holistic approach to workplace wellbeing. It isn’t just about providing support: it’s also about changing the culture from within so that people feel comfortable speaking out and seeking the help they need. These ideas speak to a need to improve employee experience in the workplace, to promote health and wellbeing and reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
That leads us on to the final wellbeing at work idea:
81. Make sure all of this is accessible to everyone – everyone needs support at some point in their lives, so make sure all these schemes, perks and conversations are open to everyone. That way, we can all benefit from a more open environment and feel assured that we have someone to talk to.