Time To Talk Day | Why HR should encourage staff to discuss mental health at work

Why HR should encourage staff to discuss mental health at work

Every HR leader worth their salt knows the importance of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

And while it should always be at the forefront of a company’s people agenda, today provides an opportunity for leaders to focus more on how they’re supporting the mental health of their employees.

Time To Talk Day, billed as “the nation’s biggest mental health conversation”, is an initiative run by mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness in partnership with Co-op, with the aim to spark millions of conversations about mental health in communities, schools, homes, workplaces and online across the UK.

This year will mark 10 years of Time to Talk Day and, as its name suggests, the campaign encourages participants to make time in their day to have frank and open conversations about mental health, and how they can support themselves and one another.

It’s critical, therefore, that employers have the knowledge in place in order to support their staff and enable conversations about mental health.

Key findings around mental health in the workplace

To mark Time To Talk Day, Mind commissioned a Censuswide poll of more than 5,000 people across the UK, which returned some concerning results specifically related to discussing mental wellbeing at work.

It found that seven in ten employees (67% full time and 69% part time) say that they feel the need to put a brave face on things when asked about their mental health. 

Half (47% full time and 54% part time) report that the reason is because bigger things are going on in the world right now and they don't wish to be a burden, whilst a quarter of full time employees (27%) and a third of part time employees (35%) don’t believe that people really want to know how they are. 

A quarter (26% full time and 27% part time) say they fear being judged if they open up. As a result they are feeling withdrawn, isolated and less able to socialise.

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The biggest impact on employee mental health is the cost of living crisis, with 52% of full time employees and 59% of part time employees saying it is affecting them, but work also plays a role, causing mental health challenges for 40% of full time workers and 30% of part time.

When asked how they are the phrase ‘Good thanks, and you?’ is often wheeled out to deflect, by 35% full time employees and 38% part time, with ‘Fine, thanks’ a popular choice for 28% of full time employees and 37% part time.

Half of employees (46% full time and 48% part time) believe that mental health is a taboo subject, demonstrating the need for employee wellbeing schemes to help normalise speaking about mental health, and opportunities for employees to open up - like Time to Talk Day.

Employees putting on a brave face too often

Dr Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “Our survey highlights that too often, we put a brave face on and tell people we’re fine when we’re not because we’re worried about being a burden during difficult times. But bottling things up is only making things worse. Talking about our mental health can help us feel less alone, more able to cope, and encouraged to seek support if we need to. Have a conversation this Time to Talk Day.”

‘I struggled to talk about mental health at work'

Pete Riddleston, 51 from Worcestershire, is one of the countless people who has struggled to open up at work in the past. He explained: “I was working as a lawyer in the early years of my career and really struggled with anxiety and depression. At the time, it felt really difficult to talk \about my mental health at work. My fear of stigma was massive. I was worried if I spoke about my mental health, it would limit my career. 

“Thankfully, it's become much more normal and accepted to talk about mental health in the legal sector. Now I have regular conversations about mental health and wellbeing at work. I’ve led ‘lunch and learn’ sessions about mental health, including on Time to Talk Day. I think it’s helped to create a culture where people feel more comfortable opening up and so they’re less like to hide behind a facade at work.”

Supporting employees throughout 2024 and beyond 

With a recent study from Fora finding half (51%) of hybrid workers have taken time off work as a result of stress or anxiety in the past year, missing an average of 6.1 days each, it’s a more important time than ever for employers to have the necessary support and resources in place to fuel a happy workforce and support their colleagues mental health. 

Below, Adrian Matthews, Head of Employee Benefits at MetLife UK, shares his tips to help employers better support their staff’s mental health:

  1. Touchpoints that work for us all – With many companies continuing to use hybrid working, a new age issue we face is the “silent” employee. These could be those who choose to come into the office on quieter days or pass on social occasions. While this may just be the personality type of certain employees, it’s important that fellow employees and employers alike should keep an eye on them. Anxiety can often manifest itself into fear or social discomfort, so providing valuable touch points and open conversation into how hybrid working is suiting them is imperative. Creating a greater connection is key, this could range from one-on-one coffee catch ups if a social event does not suit the employee, or implementing team breakfasts and lunches to solidify the company as a group or family.

  2. The importance of managers – Employees and employers can often overlook the role of the line-manager. Making sure managers model positive wellbeing behaviours and use their voice to challenge stigma can help employees to open up about their own mental health, likely sooner than they otherwise would. As an employer, making sure regular meetings for managers and their employees are in the diary is key. Moreover, the importance of managers fully understanding the support and packages provided must be reiterated either through regular emails or as part of manager training.

  3. Understand the support available – A group benefits package should provide a host of services to support employees (and their families) at their time of need, however big or small. For example, a Wellbeing Hub provided through Group Income Protection, or an Employee Assistance Programme through Group Life will greatly help employees during times of need.  Contact your provider to ensure you are maximising all the help that is available. Providers often enhance or add new services to their offering, so the new year is a good time to check in with them to ensure you are maximising the support available. 

With this in mind, employers should make sure these packages available are clearly signposted and accessible, this could be through a quarterly email reiterating these packages or by running through what is available at a meeting. With the growth of hybrid working, ensure you have a mix of communication channels to disseminate your messages. Also, consider that in most instances, employees will need to access information outside of working hours, so an app or hard copies can be helpful as a point of reference.



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