Thriving at work: mental health in the workplace

  • Insight

11 October 2018

We spoke to STEP who run our employer partnership programme about mental health support for our employees. The range of measures we have brought in to support mental health and wellbeing aim to help our people feel valued and supported in the workplace. This is an important part of the employee initiatives we run to be the firm of choice for our people.

1) What does mental ill health mean to you and your organisation?

We understand the importance of mental well-being and creating a mentally healthy workplace. We aim to ensure that employees who have a mental health condition or are struggling with mental wellness get the help and support they need to feel comfortable in the workplace. We recognise that mental health is just as important as physical health and people with mental health conditions often face additional barriers, including stigma and discrimination, in seeking support and treatment than people with physical health conditions. 

2) Does your organisation have a strategy in place to support mental health and wellbeing?

We’re committed to protecting the health and welfare of our people, including mental health. We have a number of different policies designed to support mental health and wellbeing including an Equality & Diversity Policy and a dedicated Stress Policy. Through these policies, we are committed to accommodating staff with stress and mental health conditions and we will make adjustments to their working hours or practices as required to best fit their individual needs.  We also seek to promote a firm-wide culture of openness and good communication. We like to ensure that our people feel able to discuss mental health problems they may be experiencing with their managers and colleagues without the fear of being treated differently.

As an Investors in People organisation we support our employees in everything we do, championing best practice to provide them with the means to do well in the workplace.  This has been recognised in our awards for Employer of the Year at the Scottish Legal Awards in 2016 and Investors in Young People Gold and Investors in People Gold accreditations, in fact we have just celebrated 20 years as an accredited Investor in People. We also became one of the first law firms in Scotland to become an accredited living wage employer and to sign the Scottish Government’s Business Pledge. These awards and initiatives reflect our commitment to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our employees.

3) What support, if any, does your organisation provide to manage and help people with mental health problems?

Anderson Strathern provides a free employee assistance programme with Health Assured which is open to all of our employees. This, confidential assistance programme, provides support and advice to those struggling with personal problems, which might impact upon their work or health and wellbeing, including their mental health. Health Assured can help individual employees who need support by arranging assessments and counselling, and can also assist by making referrals to other professionals for both individuals and their families.

We’ve also carried out stress management training for our team managers which helps us to recognise the signs of stress in team members so that we are able to help individuals deal with stress before it may become detrimental to their health. Together, with our Human Resources team, our managers are also responsible for supporting team members who have been off work due to stress and mental health conditions, considering reasonable adjustments for them including a planned return to work. Our Human Resources team also provide continuing support to staff experiencing difficulties at home or at work, and encourage referrals to specialist counsellors where appropriate.

4) What are the key reasons why an employer might put a scheme together to support mental health issues?

There are a number of different key reasons why an employer might put a scheme together to support mental health in the workplace. Some of these include supporting individuals facing mental health challenges and making it easier for them to reach out for help when needed. We are committed to reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and creating an environment where our employees feel comfortable to discuss their mental health without fear of discrimination and isolation.

5) How does your organisation encourage people to be comfortable with discussion about their mental health?

We always encourage a culture where stress and mental health conditions are not regarded as a weakness. To support this we’ve provided internal communications on Mental Health Awareness Week and what this means to our people two years in a row, and we’re now planning for this to be an annual event going forward. 

We marked Mental Health Awareness week 2018 by running a number of different events over the course of a fortnight to raise awareness of the importance of looking after our mental health.  Over the two weeks an occupational psychologist came in to give a seminar on how to develop resilience to cope with stress and a representative of CALM ran a meditation session. Other activities included lunchtime yoga sessions to help staff to relax, but perhaps what proved most popular however was the free head, neck and shoulder massages which offered employees the opportunity to enjoy some pampering and time away from their desks. At the end of the two weeks each office had a coffee and cake morning and people were encouraged to take a break from their work, to have a catch up with colleagues, with the aim of building up a network of support.

Our Corporate Responsibility Committee has also chosen to support SAMH, the Scottish Association for Mental Health, as its charity this year following a firm-wide vote which saw 60% of our people vote in favour for SAMH.  Supporting SAMH not only offers us a fantastic opportunity to fundraise for a great charity committed to improving the mental health of Scotland, but it also provides the firm with a chance to highlight the importance of breaking down barriers in the workplace and getting staff talking about their mental health, as well as helping staff who currently need mental health support.

Finally, mental health is a standing item on our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group agenda, which meets regularly to identify initiatives that the firm can introduce to promote equality, diversity and inclusion for all minority groups in the workplace. Outside the office the group participates in relevant surveys and studies designed to help identify areas where we can contribute to a more equal and diverse approach in the legal profession.

6) What is the future plan regarding mental health management at your organisation?

We are planning to continue our activities around Mental Health Awareness Week and ensure that they are reflected throughout the year. These include workplace massage sessions and meditation sessions. Our Employee Assistance Programme, which is free to access for all employees, offers confidential counselling sessions among many other benefits, this is a permanent resource. In the year ahead we plan to reinvigorate our existing Mentoring Programme by inviting more internal mentors to step forward. Our mentoring volunteers will receive training to enable them to make the most of their role in supporting colleagues. We will also be putting added focus on further flexible and agile working opportunities. We have offered flexible working arrangements for over twenty years and we now aim to make it even easier for our staff to build a work-life balance which suits their individual situation. We believe that a combination of these measures and initiatives lead to good mental health management and understand that one size does not fit all.

7) Can you tell me about what difference any measures taken have made to individuals at your organisation?

There has been strong anecdotal evidence of a positive effect. Those who have chosen to provide feedback have reacted favourably to the initiatives we have introduced. Our methods of gaining feedback include our Staff Forum, our Equality, and Diversity & Inclusion group, our Staff Survey and our Investors in People and Investors in Young People reviews.

8) Have there been any noticeable benefits to the organisation as a result of any measures that have been implemented? Or if they are anticipated, what do you expect them to be? 

In considering benefits, we’ve looked at a range of sources. We have continuing low staff turnover and low staff absence figures, we see them as just one indicator of staff satisfaction and health in general. We plan to introduce equality monitoring and will use the data from that to influence our strategy.

Ultimately, there are many factors that affect an individual’s and an organisation’s mental health. We hope that the range of measures and initiatives we have brought in to support mental health and wellbeing will continue to help our people feel valued and supported in the workplace.

For more information on mental health at work, please contact