How to develop an action plan for better workplace mental health

Like any good journey, changing your approach to mental health at work starts with a plan. But how do you create an action plan that works for your company? How do you get the right people on board? And where in the world do you start with it all?

These are questions that companies all over the world are asking themselves – because most employers want to do better for their people; they’re just not always sure how. 

That’s where we come in.

The Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health (or GBC for short, because that’s a bit of a mouthful) was set up to help employers navigate the tricky world of mental health. We’re signing up businesses from across the globe, who are all committed to improving employee wellbeing. The first step in that commitment? Developing an action plan to support good mental health at work

To help get you started, we’ve been speaking to business leaders from the likes of Deloitte, Unilever, BP, Clifford Chance and HSBC to learn more about how they did it. 



Six steps to creating your own action plan for better workplace mental health 


Step one: Find out where you are now

If you want to improve employee wellbeing and create a more supportive culture for your people, you need to develop a good understanding of where you are now. That means delving into how your employees currently see your company. 

Do they feel supported by you? Would they feel confident confiding in their line manager? Do they know what support services are available to them? You also need to know where your people are: do they feel happy at work? Is their workload overwhelming? Do they have enough support? Knowledge is power, so arm yourself with as much as you can get. 


Step two: Collect data; lots of data 

To figure out what your workforce actually wants, you need to build a set of questions that will capture the right insights for your business. The same questions should be asked regularly, so you can monitor your progress. If budget is limited, free tools like Survey Monkey can be invaluable. 

You can also glean data from any EAPs (Employee Assistance Programmes) you might have, along with sickness absence data, and exit interviews. Just be sure to protect privacy and anonymity here, as you’re trying to build trust and transparency. 


Step three: Raise awareness

If your company is fairly new to the mental health conversation, it’s incredibly important to raise awareness of mental health, and to tackle any associated stigma. Start using the words ‘mental health’ openly and confidently, and tune into the language your people best respond to and identify with. An inclusive approach is really important. 

When you take that initial temperature check to find out how your people are feeling (and how your company is faring), include language around stress, mental health, mental illness, overwhelm, anxiety, depression and burnout in your questions. 


Step four: Obtain senior level buy-in

Without the backing of your senior leadership team, changing company culture is an uphill struggle. One of the best ways to gain buy-in from up top is to present the business case. If your survey results suggest employee wellbeing is low, demonstrate how those things are impacting the bottom line, employee engagement, absence levels, talent retention or the customer experience. 

Not every leadership team will understand the positive ROI that an investment in mental health can bring, so it’s important to do some groundwork. Help them to see that addressing mental health at work doesn’t mean that work is the root cause, but that the way workplaces handle employee mental health has an enormous impact on a person’s wellbeing.


Step five: Involve people from all over the business

Once you’ve got the backing of the senior leadership team, it’s time to go company-wide. Having representatives from diverse departments – including Human Resources, communications, and people leaders from around the globe – makes it much easier to affect cultural change. It’s also advisable to involve people at varying levels of seniority.

Sharing lived experience is one of the most powerful ways to get the mental health conversation going, so a crucial step in your action plan should be to invite people from different backgrounds and cultures to share their stories (this should always be voluntary with good support put in place to help that individual through the process). 


Step six: Meet people where they are

Keep in mind that the journey you’re trying to encourage your people to go on is voluntary, so you’ll need a great campaign to build momentum and remove any barriers that might stop people from coming in.

Exposure to stigma has made a lot of people risk-averse when it comes to talking about mental health. Your employees might be fearful of being judged, or seen as weak – especially in a corporate environment. Before you can even think about enabling access to mental health support then, you’ve got to take steps to make people feel comfortable in opening up. How? With constant communication: reinforce the message, through every email and interaction, that it really is okay not to be okay. 

For more advice on how to improve workplace mental health in your organisation, check out our spotlight series, or attend one of our upcoming webinars on tackling the different Pledge areas.