top of page
  • Writer's pictureGraham Atkinson

Wellbeing @ Work

Wellbeing in the workplace remains high on the agenda for employers and has been in the spotlight again this month. The 10th October was World Mental Health Day and follows on from National Suicide Prevention Week that ran throughout September. I was struck, as I’m sure lots of you were, by the many moving stories on social media and elsewhere from people sharing their personal experiences and battles with poor mental health in its various guises. I thought the #faceofdepression campaign was particularly poignant including the stories here.

The Guardian has been talking this month about ‘six steps to improving mental wellbeing at work’, Personnel Today were outlining ‘why psychological safety at work should be a board-level issue’ and Mind were taking the opportunity to remind people about their wide range of resources for individuals and employers.

The case for a focus on wellbeing has been well made but just to reiterate…

Business in the Community report that 3 in 5 employees have suffered mental health issues because of work and estimate that as many as 1.2m people in the UK may have suffered adverse consequences for disclosing mental health problems. One in four people experience a mental health problem every year and one in fifteen people will make a suicide attempt at some point in their lives.

This is not only an important issue for all employers but there is also a sharp focus on wellbeing for universities / colleges, students’ unions and other organisations that work closely with students. The 2017 HEPI (Higher Education Policy Institute) Student Academic Experience Report finds that there remains a significant difference in levels of wellbeing between students and the national population; and this is getting worse year on year. Life satisfaction amongst students is reported at 14% compared to 29% of the general population and 27% of all 20-24 year olds. Low levels of anxiety are reported by just 19% of students in contrast with 41% of the wider population. With the need for students to balance a range of challenges around expectations, financial pressures, workload and support this is not necessarily surprising, but it is worrying.

Of course, employers and organisations can’t be responsible for the mental wellbeing of individuals, but they can provide environments that promote good physical and mental health. Not only can organisations help their people to thrive and be more productive with a focus on wellbeing, but there’s a strong argument that they have a social responsibility to do so. For many, work is a big part of their lives and has such a strong impact on overall live satisfaction, happiness and anxiety.

It’s pleasing to see a growing emphasis in universities, students’ unions and many other organisations on wellbeing (although there’s a long way to go). Lots of the organisations that I’ve worked with recently have a clear focus within their strategic plans on wellbeing and mental health; and are getting better at articulating the wellbeing outcomes and benefits of their activities. Lots of these organisations are also getting better at being proactive about wellbeing and taking different approaches to tackle head on.

My friend and ex-NUS colleague Steve Coole wrote this excellent piece last month about his fight with depression. If you only read one link from this blog make it this one. One of the things that I really like about Steve’s account is the way he talks about his learning, not only as a human being but as a manager. One of the key things that helped him was that someone in the workplace spotted the warning signs and his manager supported him throughout. It doesn’t take much for any organisation to have managers that are well-trained and encouraged to spot when a colleague may have symptoms of poor mental health and how they can respond in a way that is supportive and helpful.

As I say above, I think lots of organisations are now taking positive steps and I wanted to finish with three simple and easy things that any business can do to ensure they’re being proactive on wellbeing:

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel – there are so many fantastic resources available from charities like Mind, Time to Change and the Mental Health Foundation. Many of these tools can be adapted and rolled out in your workplace.

2. Train your managers and make sure your expectations of them are clear in creating a workplace culture and environment that is supportive and conducive to positive wellbeing. Be explicit about what this looks like.

3. Join up your activities – particularly for organisations like students’ unions – whose various opportunities and services do much to contribute to the positive wellbeing and mental health of students. Make sure you understand (and are measuring) the wellbeing outcomes of those services and are learning the lessons and applying them to create the right kind of culture and environment across the organisation.

If you’d like a conversation about wellbeing in your workplace please get in touch at

bottom of page