Building mentally healthy workplaces – reflecting on the barriers and progress so far

Sarah Hughes
Sarah Hughes

Chief Executive Officer of Mind

We hear a lot about progress in workplace mental health and wellbeing, but whilst recognition of organisations’ responsibility is growing, are we really making a difference? If not, why not?

In advance of taking part in a panel at the MAD World Summit in October 2023, Sarah Hughes, CEO at Mind, talks about where we are with fostering a supportive and inclusive approach to mental health at work – and why we need to go much further.


We know that the pandemic increased focus and expedited workplace wellbeing agendas, with more attention given to implementing mental health initiatives at work.

In addition, I’m pleased to see that awareness is increasing that ‘reactive mental health support’ at the point of illness alone is not enough, and that more preventative measures are needed to improve policy and practice around employee mental health to enable people to thrive at work.

We are now experiencing the positive effects of this effort, with the results of Mind’s 2021/22 Workplace Wellbeing Index showing that more employees reported that they had good or very good mental health, and fewer stating that they experienced a mental health problem in their present role compared to the previous year.

Almost three in five of us have experienced poor mental health in our current jobs

Despite these positive findings, there are worrying trends which threaten the future state of mental health at work. Mind’s 2021/22 Workplace Wellbeing Index also found that organisations appear to be experiencing ‘wellbeing fatigue’, with mental health and wellbeing beginning to make fewer appearances on strategic agendas.

Mind’s latest research discovered that almost three in five of us (57 per cent) have experienced poor mental health in our current jobs. Already, fewer employees are disclosing mental health problems to their employers and fewer are being honest when mental health has been a reason for absence when compared to last year. This decline was particularly prominent amongst specific employee communities, including LGBTQIA+ workers.

A young woman works at a bar.

It’s clear there’s a growing need to support mental health in the workplace. Deloitte found that in 2022, poor mental health at work cost UK employers £56 billion.

But what can we do about this?

Designed for organisations of all sizes from all sectors, the Mental Health at Work Commitment is a simple framework that builds on what we know about good workplace wellbeing. Currently, over 2,780 organisations are signed up and working towards the six standards – supporting the mental health of over five million employees.

Senior leaders understand the case for investment

Mental Health at Work, a workplace wellbeing programme curated by Mind, recently surveyed the signatories of the Mental Health Commitment. We found that the vast majority of respondents strongly agreed that their senior leaders understood the case for investment in the mental health of their workforce.

What’s more, the leading reason for employers signing the Commitment was to signal to their employees the importance they place on the mental health of their staff. The second most reported reason was to attract future talent.

We are greatly encouraged by this finding – employers are increasingly coming to the realisation that they need to do more to improve the wellbeing of their most valuable resource, their human capital. And by signing the Mental Health at Work Commitment, they are taking tangible steps to make the world of work a healthier, fairer and kinder place for everyone.

Colleagues share a drink.

We know that a unified approach to mental health, with long term investment from the government into a mixture of support and regulatory changes to improve workplace mental health practices and policies, is crucial for the future of work that allows all to thrive.

This includes a fairer and more flexible system for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) that supports employees with their mental health earlier on by reducing their hours temporarily, and phased returns to work after a mental health related absence. Statutory Sick Pay does not currently allow for this.

A one size fits all approach is not enough

We know that LGBTQIA+ employees, employees identifying as people of colour and young employees aged 18-24 are more likely to have poor mental health at work (Mind 2021/22 Workplace Wellbeing Index). They also report lower levels of disclosure, and comfort when considering disclosing mental health problems.

Going forward, it will be critically important for organisations to build their awareness of the needs of different employee groups, working with employee inclusion groups, as well as creating tailored wellbeing resources and strategies.

A one size fits all approach is not enough any more – we must be person-centred in approach if we are to create mentally healthy workplaces for all employees.

Colleagues work together gathered around a laptop.

While line managers are improving in their role modelling of good wellbeing behaviours, they are experiencing a lack of confidence in their abilities to support those with mental health issues in the workplace, in turn impacting employee belief in their capabilities.

The World Health Organisation’s recommendations for employers published last year drew attention to the importance of managers, suggesting they are in a strong position to create positive change for their reports.

You don't need to do it alone

Going forward, supportive and well-informed line management will be crucial in tackling the challenges we’ve seen. Line managers need the right training and knowledge to act as a trusted source of support and restore their capacity to promote mental health for those they manage, with support from senior leadership.

Ultimately, employers do not need to travel this road alone – there is plenty of information, guidance, advice and services such as our Mental health at Work programme to help them make the changes they need and to best support their employees to thrive in work.

Sarah will take part in a panel discussion about the future of mental health at work to help you support your employees, at the MAD World Summit, hosted in London on 12 October 2023. You can book your ticket online by visiting The MAD World Summit website.

The Mental Health at Work Commitment is based on the Thriving at Work standards, uses up-to-date research, and pulls from existing pledges and standards out there already – so it’s the only roadmap you need to follow to achieve better mental health at work. Find out more and sign here.

To help you put the Commitment into action, Mental Health at Work have developed a series of resources as a starting point. You can also join our Peer Platform for additional support for others on their Commitment journey.

About this website

Your guide to mental health at work

Whether you work with 10 people, 10,000 people or just yourself, paying attention to mental health in the workplace has never been more important.

Find out more