Supporting Employee Mental Health: Where Do You Start?

Scott Wallace PhD
Published in
4 min readSep 19, 2019


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The latest ‘Employee Wellbeing Research 2018’ from Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA) highlighted that that 60% of UK chief executives say mental health is the area of employee wellbeing they are most concerned about. The report also highlighted that business leaders increasingly recognize that high pressured working environments are putting their employees’ physical and mental health at risk.

The report key findings include:

Employee well-being

Organizations vary considerably in how proactive they are in promoting employee well-being:

  • Two-fifths of employers have a standalone well-being strategy.
  • 55% say well-being is on the agenda of senior leaders.
  • Almost half report that line managers are bought into the importance of well-being

Managing disability and long-term health conditions

Most organizations could use a wider range of approaches to manage and support employees:

  • Two-thirds of organizations have a flexible and inclusive working culture.
  • Most organisations experience challenges.
  • Developing line manager knowledge and confidence is the key challenge (56%).

Impact of technology on employee well-being

Technology has positive and negative effects on well-being:

  • Three-quarters of organisations say the main benefit is flexible working.
  • 87% say technology affects people’s ability to switch off out of work hours.

Absence levels

Attendance and absence trends and patterns:

  • The average level of employee is 6.6 days per employee per year.
  • Absence is highest in the public sector (8.5 days compared with 5.6 days in private sector services).
  • Return-to-work interviews are the most popular method of managing absence.

‘Presenteeism’ and ‘leaveism’

Unhealthy patterns of behaviour show that:

  • 86% of organisations have observed presenteeism over the past 12 months.
  • Over two-thirds have noticed “leaveism” (people working when they should be on leave.)
  • Around a quarter are taking steps to discourage unhealthy working patterns.

Work-related stress and mental health

The greatest risks to employee well-being are psychological:

  • 37% of organisations report that stress-related absence has increased.
  • 55% say that reported common mental health conditions have increased (41% in 2016)
  • 51% are increasing awareness of mental health issues across the workforce compared with 31% in 2016.


  • Organisations vary considerably in how proactive they are in promoting employee wellbeing, with two-fifths of employers stating that they have a standalone wellbeing strategy.
  • Most organisations could use a wider range of approaches to manage and support employees with a disability or long-term health condition. The majority admitted to experiencing challenges in this area.
  • The average level of employee absence is 6.6 days per employee per year. Absence is highest in the public sector at 8.5 days compared with 5.6 days in private sector services.
  • 37 per cent of organisations report that stress-related absence has increased, while 55 per cent say that reported common mental health conditions have increased, up from 41 per cent in 2016.

So, what are businesses doing to address this?

  1. Data Analysis. Analysing data can help employers better understand what healthcare challenges exist — both physical and mental. Data can be collated from several places — absence management figures, employee surveys, usage of any insurances that the employer offers (such as private medical insurance or income protection) and what health and wellbeing initiatives are used most.
  2. Involve people in the planning process. Ask what types of wellbeing initiatives they would most like (e.g. surveys or focus groups)
  3. Lead from the top. To ensure success have someone at the Board level champion the well-being strategy.
  4. Provide access to support services such as counseling, mental health first aiders and employee assistance programs (EAP).
  5. Examine other areas that may impact mental health, such as financial well-being, diet, alcohol intake, and sleep.
  6. Train line managers to give them the right knowledge and skills to support and manage employees with mental health issues. Line managers can spot the early warning signs of stress, anxiety, and depression in their teams and can direct them towards appropriate support.
  7. Encourage open communication to help break down the stigma of mental health.
  8. Tie well-being programs to national health campaigns (e.g. Bell “Let’s Talk”).

It’s encouraging that companies plan to do more to improve their workforce mental health, but for these programs to be successful, they need to an integral part of the business strategy and also prioritized by the board. The strategy must be planned carefully and communicated to the workforce effectively, so everyone is clear about the support services available.

Download the full report available here.

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Ready To Help Your Employees Excel and Thrive?

Avail is a Software-as-a-Service (Saas) based holistic well-being solution for organizations and their employees. Avail’s proactive, mobile-first, anytime platform uses clinical and behavioural data-driven insights to provide employees with personalized well-being profiles that are increasingly refined to reflect changes in well-being as circumstances change. Each profile aims to equip employees with insight and actionable skills to achieve optimal mental well-being, strengthened resilience and a mindset that promotes high engagement and performance.

For employees with untreated mental health problems or who want to improve their mental wellbeing without stigma or privacy concerns, Avail’s Care Navigator recommends options ranging from psychoeducational content (e.g. articles, videos) to professional care from our national provider network. Care resources can be augmented with any care options your organization provides. For administrators, Avail’s aggregate analytics and insights track your organization’s care service utilization and identifies trends in the mental health and well-being of your workforce.

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