Thriving at work: Mental Health and Wellbeing

The government’s mental health core standards can help create a psychologically safe working environment. CIWM’s Professional Development Manager, Claire Poole, considers how to implement them.

It’s great that we are having more conversations about mental health and wellbeing. How many workplaces have appropriate and effective wellbeing plans backed by a culture that allows the plan to work for both individuals and the organisation? We need leaders and managers to be self-aware, with good emotional intelligence to contribute to a psychologically safe working environment that allows staff to thrive.

The UK Government’s ‘Thriving at Work’ report identified a set of mental health core standards as:

  • Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan;
  • Develop mental health awareness among employees;
  • Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling;
  • Provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development;
  • Promote effective people management through line managers and supervisors; and
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing.

The report’s authors state that “our hope is that the mental health core standards will encourage awareness and training amongst those who might find it difficult, but also put in place wider structures and processes which encourage managers to develop skills and understanding of mental health whilst providing alternative sources of support for employer”.

For the implementation of these standards to be effective, the whole organisation must be ready. If the culture or leadership practices don’t match, then a wellbeing plan is likely to be a ‘tick box’ exercise. Before starting, be prepared to ask three important questions:

  •         Do we understand what wellbeing means for the organisation?
  •         How are current working practices impacting mental health and wellbeing?
  •         Is the organisation ready?

This last question is important. If it is felt that the culture or ‘behaviour’ of an organisation and its managers does not align with what the organisation is saying or offering, then it is unlikely anyone will feel empowered or have the confidence to seek support and speak up; or, at least not likely to speak up until they reach either crisis point or have resigned the organisation, at a high cost to the employer.

The ‘Thriving at Work’ report identified that whilst mental health and wellbeing is a responsibility of the employer, other organisations should also take an interest in promoting the understanding and support for mental health and wellbeing. As the professional body for the recycling and waste sector, CIWM has developed a Framework of Professional Standards, based on the competences for Chartered Members. This includes ‘improving safe working practices and wellbeing’.

5 key steps to help plan how you can embrace the Mental Health Core Standards

Consider the following steps to ensure employees can thrive at work.

  1. Put together a mental health and wellbeing plan – it is important to involve the whole organisation and not just HR/senior management. If you haven’t already done so explore the thoughts and opinions of the organisation relating to what wellbeing means, how current practices may be impacting mental health and wellbeing and if the organisation is ready.


  1. Once you have a plan, ensure that all team leaders, managers and senior managers etc, have the appropriate people management skills needed to implement the plan. Take time to check that managers have the skills. Also consider whether they have the confidence, either in themselves or in senior management to support them in their actions and conversations. If you feel you need to develop in this area, include it in your personal development plan. Does everyone still exhibit these skills even when they are up against deadlines and priorities, or does the organisation revert to old habits?


  1. Ensure the right working conditions are in place. This may be physical conditions, how someone is managed, flexible and ‘agile’ working or adaptability etc. Ask whether we feel in control of our work.


  1. Once the first three steps have been established, develop and/or implement wellbeing and mental health awareness training. It is important to ensure the right culture exists for this to be effective and for people to have the confidence to embrace it and, hopefully, make a difference.


  1. Encourage conversations and ongoing actions for wellbeing. It is important that any initiatives to encourage staff wellbeing is not undermined by the overriding culture and management style. Ensure the plan isn’t metaphorically left on the shelf gathering dust.

Think of this as an investment in an organisation’s greatest assets and its future. Having a psychologically safe working environment helps people through future changes, helps them work to their strengths, and be more productive and creative. It can lead to greater staff retention, improved productivity and higher quality output.

Annex A of the ‘Thriving at Work’ report gives further information on how the mental health core standards can be achieved.

Not convinced? Think about the legal implications. All of this can help with an organisation’s legal responsibilities under Health and Safety Legislation. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that if ‘work related stress is prolonged it can lead to both physical and psychological damage, including anxiety and depression. Work can also aggravate pre-existing conditions or make their effects worse. Whether work is causing the health issue or aggravating it, employers have a legal responsibility to help their employees.’ To help with this the HSE has a set of standards for managing stress within the workplace that, if followed, demonstrates good practice.

Their approach uses risk assessment for the basis of identifying and managing the following:

  • Demands – what issues are created due to workload, working patterns and the working environment?
  • Control – do individuals have any say in the way they do their work?
  • Support – a variety of types of support may be needed from the organisation, managers and colleagues: are these in place along with the necessary skills to implement them?
  • Relationships – The HSE mentions promoting positive working, avoiding conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour. This links to having the right culture to back up any mental health and wellbeing plans.
  • Role – do individuals understand their role and does the organisation ensure they are not conflicting?
  • Change – how this is managed and communicated is important, no matter how small the change is.

The HSE also reiterates the need for the ‘resource, support and infrastructure’ to be in place prior to implementing the standards. This reinforces comments in the early part of this article about the 5 key steps and the Mental Health Core Standards.

Did you know that if someone with mental health problems has been treated unfavourable in the workplace because of their mental health condition, this could be a breach of the Equality Act 2010?

Therefore, make it work – don’t just ‘tick a box’!

Resources available to help:

CIWM Framework of Professional Standards

Thriving at Work Report

HSE – Management Standards (Stress at Work)

Mind – People Managers’ guide to Mental Health

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