How well is our workplace supporting mental health?

Do you know how work can affect your mental health? How are things in your team right now? This section helps you to understand more about the current situation in your workplace.

Or download and print our quick guide for managers on mental health in the workplace.

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What affects our mental health at work?

There are a number of working practices, environments and situations that can affect our mental health. They may also contribute to the development of specific problems and make existing conditions worse.

Research suggests there are three broad overlapping areas that affect workplace mental health.

Lack of value and respect in the workplace

  • Workplace conflict/bullying can increase symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress-related problems.
  • Justice in the workplace. If your workplace does not distribute resources and benefits fairly, there may be an increased likelihood of mental health problems among staff.
  • Lack of respect or lack of good information from management about workplace procedures are also linked to mental health problems.
  • Feeling underappreciated or under-rewarded. If employees feel that the reward they get for their work is lower than the effort they put in, they may be more at risk of common mental health problems and increased stress.

There have been a lot of changes and none have been handled very well leaving staff feeling overworked, under resourced, unappreciated and generally ill informed. Managers crack the whip and the end result is that absence for ‘stress’ has increased” – IP

Imbalanced job design

  • Atypical working hours, particularly long working hours, are associated with symptoms of depression.
  • Job demands and control. Employees with low control over work and hours combined with a high workload and time pressure, have an increased risk of mental health problems and reduced wellbeing.
  • Lack of social support in the workplace can make these problems worse.

Managers trot out the health and safety mantra about us all going home safe and well at the end of each day and yet fail to realise that physical safety is just one part of the overall picture. Mental well being is just ignored and glossed over” – IP

Occupational uncertainty

  • Organisational change and job insecurity are both related to poor mental health.
  • Temporary contracts. There is also a link between temporary contracts and mental health problems.
  • Role stress or lack of clarity about a role. This means employees don’t have enough information about responsibilities and objective and/or opposing expectations about what their role actually is. It can lead to symptoms of depression.

I was moved to a different client group (one of which I had little experience) in a different geographical area. I left a [familiar] client group, a very supportive senior manager and a fantastic team, many of whom I had worked with for many years. I moved to another team who resented my appointment (they had lost a manager that they respected and trusted) with a senior manager who was 'less than supportive … 12 months later we faced another reorganisation.” – cnash

If you’re a manager, the information in this section can help you think about what things are like in your team at the moment. We can also help you think about running a workplace mental health and wellbeing audit. Use the icons at the top of this page to scroll across to this information.

We also have information on improving mental health and wellbeing in your organisation and supporting staff with mental health problems.

How are things in my team at the moment?

If you’re a manager, you have a really important role in supporting staff wellbeing and promoting good mental health in the workplace. You can improve working practices, encourage your team to speak openly, and reassure them you will offer support, not discrimination.

You may also want to speak for your team and promote good practice across the organisation.

Before you start, it’s worth thinking about how things are right now in your team.

The questions below might help. A workplace mental health audit may also make things clearer.

What are the current levels of knowledge and awareness in the team?

  • How much do you know about mental health, diagnosed conditions and the signs of poor mental health?
  • How do you feel about mental health? Why?
  • Do your staff understand the importance of looking after their mental health?
  • Do you think you, or other staff, would notice if someone else in the team was having difficulty with their mental health?
  • Do your staff know about any mental health policies the organisation has? Do you?
  • Do you hear staff using stigmatising language or making assumptions about people with mental health problems?

[An] employee at our workplace… has mental [health] issues and unfortunately he is spoken [about] behind his back that he will one day go on a rampage or that he’s a difficult person to deal with. This makes me sad as I feel… he just needs people to be open with him.”– DuckieX

Are any staff currently experiencing difficulties with mental health?

  • Are any of your staff experiencing difficulties with their mental health right now?
  • Do any of your staff have a diagnosed mental health problem? How are they supported? Do you know how they’re managing right now?
  • Would you know for sure if someone’s sick leave were related to their mental health?
  • If anyone is off sick because of their mental health, have you been in contact with them? Do you have a plan in place to support their return to work?

When I studied my MBA... We were taught how to recognize the situation developing in individual employees and how to deal with it in a proactive rather than a reactive manner. Many, if not most, managers are scared by the situation and that leads to unnecessary conflict.” – Alan RBM

Do you talk about mental health or workplace difficulties within the team?

  • Do you feel your team members can approach you about problems and worries? How often do they actually do this?
  • Do you ask your team members how they’re doing in one-to-one meetings?
  • Do you talk about mental health and wellbeing in team meetings?

What support is available?

  • Does your organisation have an employee advice/support programme (EAP)? Does anyone actually use it or know what it’s for? Do you tell your staff about it?
  • Do you use Wellness Action Plans with your team?
  • Does your organisation have a mental health policy?
  • Do you offer regular one-to-ones and team meetings? How often do these actually take place?
  • Do you run any other initiatives to promote good mental health in the team or as part of the wider organisation? Do your team feel able to attend?

My company have introduced coffee afternoons to get people away from their desk for a short period of time and gives everyone the chance to relax and talk without the stress of focusing on work related issues. We have workshops and other team building events to help with mental wellbeing in the workplace” – landrewsl

How confident do you feel as a manager?

As a manager I would have found it helpful to understand the support mechanisms available to assist employees who have a mental illness. In particular to assist such employees maintaining attendance when they are unwell rather than having to revert to sick leave, which may not be the right solution.” – David A

Most people find that there’s still more to be done. Our section on promoting good mental health might help.

Running a mental health and wellbeing audit for your organisation

A good way of finding out about the mental health and wellbeing picture in your organisation is to run an audit. It may be that you’re in a leadership position and can instigate yourself. Or you may need to speak to your manager and propose that the leadership adopt this approach. Either way, this section will help, as it gives an outline of how to go about running a mental health and wellbeing audit.

What is a mental health and wellbeing audit?

An audit helps you get an accurate picture of the current situation in your workplace. It usually consists of a review of current policies and an anonymous staff survey. You may also choose to conduct confidential interviews with employees who’ve experienced mental health problems while working for you.

Some organisations will run an internal audit. Others will choose to employ an independent consultant to ensure confidentiality and impartiality for staff.

Why run an audit?

There may be a number of reasons why you may choose to run a health and wellbeing audit.

Research by Time To Change across 46 organisations and 15,000 employees found that 40% of respondents have experienced stress, low mood or mental health problems while in employment.

64% of respondents said they went into work even when experiencing poor mental health, with their performance being affected.

30% felt that they wouldn’t be able to talk openly with their line manager if they were feeling stressed, and only half knew where to find mental health policies or information on support.

56% of respondents said they would like to do more to support mental health in the workplace, but didn’t feel that they had the right training.

Another survey of 1,104 working adults found that 49% would be unlikely to tell their employer about a problem with their mental health.

It’s clear that, even with the best intentions, senior management don’t always have a clear picture of what’s going on in their organisation.

A mental health audit or review can help make things clearer.

  • It can help you understand what’s happening now in your organisation – where the gaps in training, information and support really are.
  • It can give staff a chance to share information about their mental health anonymously.
  • It should help you understand if any interventions you currently offer meet the needs of your workforce.
  • It will provide you with a baseline against which you can evaluate any interventions you put in place.

How should we run an audit?

Think about why you’re running this audit

Look at some of the reasons in the list above, and make sure you’re clear what the purpose of your audit is.

Think about who will run the audit

Will staff be comfortable with an internal audit? How will you ensure that anonymity and confidentiality are preserved? The charity Mind can help you set up an audit as part of their Workplace Wellbeing Index. Alternatively you can employ an external consultant.

How will we gather information and what will we include?

A policy and procedures review

  • Is stress included in your health and safety policy? The Health and Safety Executive has more information.
  • Do you have a separate mental health policy? Does this include promoting staff wellbeing as well as managing mental health problems?
  • What are current levels of sickness absence for mental health? Bear in mind that these may not be accurate if employees choose not to disclose.
  • Do you have guidance for managers about managing mental health, mental health-related sickness absence and return to work?
  • How are managers trained?
  • Do staff receive any training or guidance about managing mental health at work?
  • Does your organisation use Wellness Action Plans?

An anonymous (or confidential) staff survey. Think about how you’ll ensure employees feel confident answering the survey. If you have staff who are not based at a computer, how will you ensure they have access to the survey? You may wish to ask some of these questions:

  • Have you experienced stress, low mood or a mental health problem while employed at your organisation?
  • What affects your mental health at work?
  • Have you taken time off for stress, low mood or a mental health problem - and if so did you disclose the real reason?
  • Have you disclosed this to a manager – and if so, did you get the support you wanted?
  • Do you feel confident talking to your manager about your mental health?
  • Are you aware of or have you accessed existing policies and initiatives?
  • As a line manager, do you feel you’ve been given sufficient training and guidance on how to support your team?
  • Do you think the organisation supports employees with mental health problems?
  • Do you want to give any more information and/or would you be comfortable taking part in a confidential interview?

It may also help to provide a comments box where staff can submit anonymous written comments and experiences.

  • Validated tools. You may want to use a research-based, validated tool or scale to gather comparable data, such as the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) or the Single-item measure of self-rated mental health.
  • The Health and Safety Executive offers a Management Standards Indicator Tool that can be used to help understand the risks to employees of high stress levels at work.
  • Confidential interviews with staff with lived experience of mental health problems. It’s often easier to include interviews in your audit if you employ an external consultant. They can be a good way to help you understand employees’ experiences in more detail.

Think about how you’ll communicate the process to staff

Your employees need to understand the benefits of taking part, what will be done with the information they provide, and how the results will be used. It’s important that staff feel it’s a worthwhile exercise and part of a wider commitment to mental health. You could consider making an organisational pledge as part of this commitment. But be careful not to force or coerce employees into participating in the process.

Think about what you will do with the results

Use them to develop a clear action plan with timescales and ongoing ‘temperature checks’ to assess how things are going.

Think about how you’ll communicate the results and next steps to staff too

It’s important to show employees you’re planning to take tangible action as a result of their feedback. Have a look at our information on what organisations can do to improve employees’ mental health.

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    • Mind: How to take stock of mental health in your workplace. [accessed April 2017]
    • Harvey SB, Modini M, Joyce S, et al. Can work make you mentally ill? A systematic meta-review of work-related risk factors for common mental health problems. Occup Environ Med 2017; 74: 301-310.
    • Creating mentally healthy workplaces, what employees say and how employers can improve. Time to Change, 2016.
    • BBCRadio5Live Mental health in the workplace survey. ComRes, May 2017.

  • Produced by Clare Foster, freelance health editor, and Nick Ridgman, Head of Health Content, Bupa UK, September 2017
    Next review due September 2020

    Bupa UK expert reviewers:

    • Naomi Humber, Psychology Services Manager, EAP
    • Stuart Haydock, Resilience Lead, Health Clinics
    • Sarah Deedat, Head of Behaviour Change