3 Actions Leaders Can Take to Improve Workplace Mental Health

Since the start of the pandemic, businesses around the world have begun to understand the need for better workplace mental health. While there’s no blueprint on how to approach employee wellbeing, together, our global community can make a real difference. 

 Throughout 2021, our Founding Partners have shared their insights and approaches to improving mental health at work.  

 No one business has all the answers, but we’ve seen certain themes occur time and again. So below, you’ll find the three actions most frequently cited by senior leaders when it comes to kickstarting and managing the workplace mental health journey. 

1. Demonstrate the commitment of senior leaders 

 We still have a ‘permission culture’ in many workplaces, which means that before any new initiative can really take effect, employees need to know they have the full backing of senior leadership. When people see their employer or line manager put their head above the parapet and talk openly about their mental health, it helps everyone else to feel far more comfortable in doing the same.  

Building a workplace culture which is supportive of everyone’s mental health takes ongoing commitment. Senior leadership buy-in is a key unlock, which comes from helping senior leaders to understand the business and organisational impact of mental health. You cannot encourage employees to open-up about mental health issues if their line leader is not equipped to listen, so investing in mental health training is also very important.” – Tim Munden, Chief Learning Officer and Global Head of Wellbeing, Unilever 

If you’re trying to convince people that it’s okay to admit vulnerability, this message needs to come from a level of authority. A Managing Partner or CEO speaking out consistently is going to have greater impact than an email from HR.” – Tiernan Brady, Global Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Clifford Chance 

If you’re not sure how to secure senior buy-in, Dr Richard Heron – Vice-President of Health and Chief Medical Officer at bp – recommends getting familiar with trends in your company data: “If you’re spotting signs that people are anxious, stressed, or overworked, present data to show how those things are impacting the bottom line – such as employee engagement, absenteeism, or customer experience. This approach is more likely to capture attention, and budget.” 


2. Create an open workplace mental health culture 

 One of the most important steps towards improving workplace mental health for all is through culture change. When people talk openly, honestly and transparently about their mental health and wellbeing, it helps to normalise the conversation and erode the mental health stigma. This means that when someone is experiencing feelings of anxiety and depression, they can talk to their manager and peers, rather than calling in sick through fear of being found out, or having to work without support.  

Create habits that will build a culture of empathy and compassion. All firms have factors that will add to employee stress levels, but we need to be more open with those conversations; acknowledging the pressures, and normalising the need for support.” – Tiernan Brady, Global Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Clifford Chance 

Deloitte’s focus includes embedding messaging around mental health throughout the career lifecycle. As part of this, Deloitte will be rolling out a global digital training for our people to develop the skills they need in order to feel confident in starting conversations about mental health.” Emma Codd, Global Inclusion Leader, Deloitte 

One of the early measures BHP took was seeking volunteers from all levels across the business who were willing to share their personal experience of mental health. BHP enlisted the help of Beyond Blue, an Australian mental health and wellbeing organisation, to frame these stories with messages of hope and recovery – something that’s proven to be extremely powerful in their organisation.” – Dr Rob McDonald, Vice-President of Health and Hygiene, BHP 


3. Review what is needed and measure the impact 

When you start out on your journey to better workplace mental health, it’s important to understand how your people are feeling, what support they need, and how effective your measures prove to be. Without keeping track of these metrics, it can be difficult to gauge your progress.  

Never implement anything, and neglect getting feedback. Usage numbers matter, so keep an eye on what people are opening and accessing – and use the data you glean to inform decisions.” – Tiernan Brady, Global Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Clifford Chance 

Deloitte has incorporated specific questions around mental health into its annual global people survey – allowing them to measure progress and impact against every action. It has also set out expectations in terms of local evaluation of data and the use of that data to identify relevant solutions at a local level.” Emma Codd, Global Inclusion Leader, Deloitte 

Emma advises companies to start by listening to their people through listening groups and employee pulse surveys. She also recommends looking at your company data, such as sickness absence and engagement survey data, and using external benchmarking to help validate your approach or identify areas for improvement.  


Join Our Global Community 

If you’re committed to improving the future of workplace mental health, why not sign the GBC Leadership Pledge? You’ll be joining our global community of business leaders and mental health ambassadors on a collaborative journey to shape the world of work. 

When you sign the Pledge, you’ll receive lots of information on how to get started, as well as having the opportunity to share insight and best practice with your peers. 


Sign the Pledge today.