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7 February 2019 | By Barbara Harvey Community

Opening up around mental health in the workplace

To mark Time to Talk Day, Accenture’s Barbara Harvey explains what employers can do to drive positive change

Like many organisations across the UK, Accenture will be marking Time to Talk Day by encouraging conversations around mental health and ensuring our employees are aware of the support available.

For too long, the focus on mental health reflected the fact that it was considered a minority issue affecting just a small proportion of people. So to see so many employers getting involved in the Time to Change campaign is a welcome sign, demonstrating not only that the widespread impact of mental health issues is now recognised, but that employers are proactively working to break down the stigma that has traditionally surrounded it.

It’s become increasingly clear that mental health is an issue that affects almost everyone in one way or another. Accenture’s research has revealed that nine in 10 workers in the UK have been touched by mental health challenges. Two-thirds (66 percent) report they have personally experienced challenges, while 85 percent say someone close to them such as a family member, close friend or colleague had experienced them.

From empathy to action

Yet while employer support for initiatives such at Time to Change is encouraging, our research indicates that organisations have some way to go when it comes to creating a workplace where mental health is openly discussed and prioritised. Only one in four respondents (27 percent) said they had seen any positive change in employees speaking openly about mental health in their organisations. Furthermore, just one in five reported an improvement in workplace training to help manage their own mental health (20 percent) or to help them support colleagues dealing with mental health challenges (19 percent).

In our experience, when it comes to supporting employees’ mental wellbeing, organisations need to think beyond simply spotting the signs of declining mental health and helping people to seek treatment when needed. To really drive positive change, they need to create an open, supportive culture that encourages all people to look after their mental health, support their colleagues and speak out without fear of judgment.

So what steps can employers take to create the kind of work environment that supports their employees’ mental health? At Accenture, we have long been working to foster a culture that focuses on mental health awareness and preventive strategies, where conversations around mental health are normalised.

The foundation of our mental health programme is a holistic health and wellbeing offering which includes a free confidential counselling service available 24/7, direct access to accredited counsellors and a professionally-monitored, anonymous online community. These are invaluable resources for helping people to get the support they need. However, what’s really made a difference when it comes to tackling the taboo around mental health and encouraging people to speak out is our Mental Health Allies Programme.

This truly transformational programme has seen us train 1,700 workplace volunteers – 15 percent of our UK workforce – to understand and engage with mental health issues. Every Ally has gone through a half-day classroom-based training session, raising their understanding and capability in addressing mental health challenges through role-plays and scenarios. Continuous learning helps our Allies stay engaged and educated about different mental health conditions and situations. Our target is to have 20 percent of our workforce trained as Allies and the other 80 percent mental health aware through education sessions by 2020.

While our programme is working – with more and more of our people talking about mental health, and a positive impact on employee engagement – this is an ongoing journey for us and we know we have much more to do. Supporting our employees’ mental health will continue to be a business imperative for Accenture, because it helps our people to live fulfilling, productive lives. Which is better for them – and makes for a thriving and successful business.

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