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05 March 2019

Wellbeing in small business: Empowering employers to take action on mental health

Guest blog from Simon Blake OBE, Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, discusses the latest employer guidance on taking action on mental health at this year's Health and Wellbeing at Work conference. 

Simon Blake

The Health and Wellbeing at Work conference this week brings together over 3,500 professionals to look at the latest developments, innovations and research in workplace wellbeing – including in mental health.   

This year we will hear from Business in the Community (BiTC) on the latest Mental Health at Work Report, and from leading employers on how they are breaking stigma and supporting their people’s mental health.  

Constant across so many organisations is a recognition of why mental health training in the workplace is so important. Since 2016 charity BiTC has called on employers to provide first aid training in mental health, and it has also been encouraging to see the FSB advising small businesses to consider implementing mental health first aid training as part of its wellbeing guide for SMEs, published last October.

With the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently enhancing its guidance to clarify the need consider mental health alongside physical health in the first aid needs assessment, employers of all sizes are now putting serious thought into how it fits in with their own approaches.   

According to the HSE, employers should consider how to manage mental health in a way appropriate for their business, which it says could include appointing ‘mental health trained first aiders’, providing relevant information on mental health, and implementing employee support programmes. 

There are two key things to note here. First is the implicit recognition that addressing workplace mental health is not a one-size-fits-all approach. What works for some won’t be as effective for others and employers will always be the experts in what is needed for their individual organisations.  

Secondly, it should be clear from this that MHFA England training is just one part of a wider approach to health and wellbeing. Often referred to as a ‘whole organisation’ approach, this wider strategy should include a preventative culture, combined with intervention approaches and clear pathways to further support.  

As employers take stock of this enhanced guidance, the question that many will be asking at Health and Wellbeing at Work is ‘Where do I start?’. 

Implementing MHFA England training to address first aid needs, and as part of an effective workplace wellbeing strategy, can seem like a daunting task. But with the right information, I believe all employers can be empowered to take positive, meaningful action to begin answering this question.  

This is why our organisation last month launched new best-practice guidance for employers on how to implement Mental Health First Aiders as part of a ‘whole organisation’ approach. Developed in collaboration with leading employers, PwC, Royal MailThames Water, and Three UK, the guidance brings together industry expertise alongside a decade of our experience implementing MHFA England training in over 15,000 workplaces of all shapes and sizes.  

It covers laying the groundwork for implementing a Mental Health First Aid programme, through to evaluating other supports in place. It also provides information on creating a bespoke policy and role document for Mental Health First Aiders, advice on their recruitment and promotion, as well as supporting and developing individuals in their roles.  

Alongside this, we have published enhanced guidance for employees on carrying out their role, including how best to engage with their employer. 

With these guides, we want to support employers and employees to understand all the components of effectively implementing MHFA England training in the workplace, whilst allowing for flexibility in how this is carried out.  

As well as taking action on HSE’s enhanced guidance, we hope to help more employers understand how to practically implement the core standards for a mentally health workplace, as set out in the Government’s Thriving at Work review.  

Having room to manoeuvre is crucial, but anchoring our strategies to these clear and accessible criteria is equally important. And though it is just one part of putting these into practice, MHFA England training can directly support employers to implement two of these standards; raising mental health awareness and encouraging conversation about the support available.  

With clear guidance and standards like these, there is no excuse for failing to take concrete action on mental health in the workplace in 2019 – and with the breadth of resources available today, it is within everyone’s grasp. 

So, this week, as we come together to listen, learn, collaborate and share best-practice around workplace mental health, I urge all employers to think about the steps they can take to create mentally healthy, supportive and sustainable workplaces.