From forward-thinking benefits to life-changing policies, we’ve collected together eight organisations that are taking actionable steps to improve employee mental health
When it comes to talking about mental health in the workplace it can, sometimes, be just that: a lot of talk. But while awareness certainly has a place, and has done a lot of good in terms of moving forward the mental health conversation and breaking down the stigma surrounding the topic – we now need to take practical steps in order to put what we’ve learned into action.
Of course, there are many different aspects that go into good mental health, which is why policies that take into account the full humans that we are, are the ones that are most successful. From initiatives to support employees through challenges in their personal lives to those which encourage them to create a better work-life balance, there are so many ways to create a better environment for all.
Ready to be inspired? Here, we’ve gathered together eight examples of organisations that have decided to do things radically differently in order to support their employee’s mental health and wellbeing.
1. Menopause policy, First Wealth
Menopause is a natural, and inevitable, part of life. But research from BUPA found that almost 900,000 women in the UK had left their jobs because of menopausal symptoms. First Wealth is an organisation that’s set out to address some of the reasons why women leave the workplace, by introducing their menopause policy – designed to support women’s career longevity within the profession.
“My perimenopause began about two years ago at the age of 42 when I started to suffer from the typical symptoms such as migraines, hot flushes, disturbed sleep, itchy skin, and just generally feeling run down and short-tempered. These symptoms and many others can go on for well over ten years, which is a very large chunk of our working careers,” Kerry Burgess, people operations director at First Wealth, tells us.
“Our Menopause Policy sets out the need for open communication between the employee and their line manager, as each person will have a different experience and therefore different requirements in the support they need. We are committed to making workplace adjustments in addition to the flexible working conditions that we already have in place. There have been days when, by the time I have walked to the station, my make-up has slipped from my face and I feel like I could dissolve into a puddle on the floor. We offer hybrid working, which can help with not having to commute into the office if you have had a disturbed night, or aren’t feeling 100%.
“It is important to me to make sure that we are looking at our business and how it is run with an open mind, but also with a questioning attitude of what more could we be doing to help make our employees' lives just that little bit easier, or to feel more supported.”
2. August holidays for all staff, 64 Million Artists
This summer, Jo Hunter, CEO of 64 Million Artists, made headlines when she gave the whole company all of August off, with full pay. The initiative was so successful that the organisation is planning on making it a permanent feature for the future.
“On returning from August off, I think priorities become much clearer,” Jo said, when reflecting on the impact of the move. “Things that felt stressful or difficult prior to the summer suddenly feel easier to solve with a bit of perspective. Also, having had a chance to rest (whatever that may look like for different people), I think we're all clearer on our boundaries and come in ready to look after ourselves and each other. Which makes for a much happier, healthier, more productive place to work.”
3. Unlimited parental leave, Netflix
Available to all parents, including adoptive parents or those using surrogacy, and regardless of the parent’s gender – Netflix offer one of the more generous parental leave policies in the world. The tech giant offers parents unlined paid parental leave during the first year following the birth or adoption of their child. Employees receive their full salary, and can also choose to work in the office or from home. On their job site, they break it down pretty simply:
‘We recognize that one of the most special events in an individual's life is the birth or adoption of a child. Our parental leave policy is: "take care of your baby and yourself."’
4. Support for employees affected by domestic abuse, Zurich
In 2022, Zurich UK partnered with Swindon Domestic Abuse Support Service to develop a policy to support employees affected by domestic abuse. The policy includes the option for employees to access up to eight sessions with a domestic abuse consultant, paid leave and emergency loans for those looking to escape abuse, awareness sessions and training for managers, to help them recognise signs of abuse and empower them to support and signpost employees who have disclosed abuse.
Speaking on the policy, Steve Collinson, chief HR officer for Zurich UK, said: “We know that, for many people, work is a safe space where they can escape things like domestic abuse. But given changes to how we now work, hybrid working presents additional challenges. Our policy is designed to raise awareness and understanding of this issue and to create an environment where those who are suffering abuse feel that they can disclose it and discuss the support they need.”
5. Tenancy deposit loans, Shelter
Housing insecurity and mental health are deeply intertwined. In fact, a study by the Boston Medical Center found that housing instability, such as being late on rent, having a homeless child, or moving more than two times in the past year, increased the odds of negative mental and physical health outcomes.
It makes sense that housing charity Shelter would implement a policy to support employees in this area – and their tenancy deposit loans do just this. Employees are able to take up an interest-free loan to cover the cost of a tenancy deposit – up to the value of their monthly take-home pay – this is then paid back in monthly instalments over a 12-month period, taken from their salary before tax and National Insurance, saving money.
6. Paid leave for fertility treatments, Co-op
In 2022, the Co-op announced that staff would now be able to take paid time off for fertility treatments. The move was inspired by Co-op’s chief executive Shirine Khoury-Haq, who shared that she had gone through the process of fertility treatment herself, and wanted to create a supportive environment for her employees.
The policy is flexible and unrestricted and also extends to partners who accompany those going to appointments for fertility treatment – and includes all co-op employees, no matter how long they have worked at the Co-op, or how many hours they work.
7. Unlimited holiday and a travel budget, Evernote
Rest and time away from work is vital for maintaining good mental health and wellbeing as a worker. Which is why unlimited holiday policies are becoming more common among progressive organisations – the idea being that employees can take as much paid time off as they need. However, it has been observed that policies such as these can lead to employees taking less time than they otherwise would, due to feelings of guilt, fear of not completing work, and the desire to present themselves as hard-working.
Evernote’s solution to this? Pay employees to go on holiday. The company offers employees a $1,000 yearly vacation stipend, to encourage travel and proper rest.
8. Unlimited ‘no questions asked’ mental health days, Mindful Extracts
For Mindful Extracts founder Donal Bourke, learning about how anxiety and stress affect the body and mind has been key to his recovery from PTSD following a motorbike accident. In recognition of this, he introduced a ‘no questions asked’ mental health day policy.
“The no questions asked mental health day policy came about organically,” he tells us. “Our very first hire was a young lad on a heroin treatment programme, and understandably he was having some rough days where he couldn’t drag himself into work. We had a very open relationship regarding mental health and drugs, and I encouraged him to be honest if he wasn’t going to make it to work. As the team has grown, I’ve continued to have very open conversations with all the staff about mental health, sharing my personal story of overcoming PTSD and creating an environment where staff can talk freely.
“One day a staff member phoned in sick and I could tell they were reaching for an excuse and feeling guilty. I told her not to worry, we’ll mark it as a ‘mental health day’ – and suddenly the policy was born, and it stuck! And since mental health is highly personal, it was important to us that it’s a no-questions-asked policy and staff felt guilt-free.”
Reflecting on the success of the policy, Donal highlights how staff now return to work sooner after needing time off and feel refreshed. He also notes how the policy has created an environment where staff feel it is safe to have difficult conversations, creating a collaborative environment.
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