How mental health training can be part of an employee training strategy

Written by Anna Bishop
Jan 20, 2021

Anna is a Training Product Manager at Red Cross Training responsible for the development and review of our training products.

Providing good mental health support in your workplace is about more than just completing a course - it needs to be an integral part of your company culture. This sounds like a real challenge, and it can be. But you’d be surprised at how easily mental health training can fit into the employee training strategies you already have in place, and the positive outcome you’ll see as a result.


Why is mental health training important?

Often, mental health in the workplace isn’t perceived to be a form of routine employee training. Unlike fire safety, or first aid, which are legal requirements, mental health in the workplace isn’t regulated in the same robust way - though it’s still considered important, and there are recommendations.

According to the HSE, employers must support employees experiencing mental health issues, whether work is causing or aggravating it - and any work-related mental health issues must be assessed to measure the levels of risk to staff. Where a risk is identified, steps must be taken to remove it or reduce it as far as reasonably practicable.

Using the “Core Standards” laid out in the Thriving at Work Report, employers can improve mental health in their workplace by:

  • Forming part of a mental health at work plan
  • Promoting communications and open conversations, by raising awareness and reducing stigma
  • Providing a mechanism for monitoring actions and outcome

One method that can help you achieve this is mental health training, as it can be incorporated into a wider employee training strategy.

That being said, providing support for mental health in the workplace is more than just a compliance activity, and taking a holistic approach to employee training by incorporating both employee physical and mental wellbeing will help you to foster a safer, more supportive culture. And while this is the end-goal, mental health training can help you begin your journey.

 

Integrate mental health training a the employee induction stage

In order to achieve a more open culture, it’s always best, where possible, to introduce the idea of mental health support or training right from the employee induction stage. This means that when new employees join your business, mental health should be a focal-point from the outset - whether that’s enrolling employees in training right away, or working with them to develop a personalised support plan.

Of course, when employees start in your organisation, they may not feel comfortable disclosing mental health issues that pre-exist, or what to discuss feelings of stress as this often makes people feel vulnerable. However, by introducing mental health support right away, you show them that if their wellbeing begins to suffer, you’re there to support them. This may at first seem a little extreme, but it helps overcome an issue many organisations face when dealing with mental health issues in the workplace:

A supportive approach from the outset helps you plan for difficult situations, rather than simply reacting when something happens.

Mental health training can give you a range of skills to help should an employee begin to experience issues, by equipping you with the tools needed to recognise when someone may need more support. For example, some mental health training courses can help employees recognise when their emotions are heightened, and teach them how to approach their responses when faced with a difficult situation/emotion- all while building resilience.

By integrating mental health training at the induction stage, you ensure that employees feel supported from the very beginning.

 

Choose training based on organisational and individual needs

Unlike first aid or fire safety training, which can be mostly applied to all people across your organisation, mental health training requires an evaluation of what will work for specific individuals in your business.

This means looking at your business and the individuals within it, alongside the outcome you wish to reach. You may find your workforce requires a range of approaches depending on individuals past experiences, preconceived opinions or experiences with mental health support or even demographic/cultural backgrounds that could be a barrier to people opening up and engaging in training.

For example, if you’re seeing an increase in sick days due to stress it could indicate that employees require training on how to deal with it, or that leadership needs guidance on how to provide better support. In addition to this, you could find that the stress is caused by individuals being given too much work, which highlights a wider organisational issue that can be solved through a review of your business processes.

No matter the situation, evaluating your mental health support needs in this way will help you figure out which training - if any - is right for your organisation.

Mental health training should never be viewed as a “tick-box” exercise, and shouldn’t be done because you feel obligated to. Like any other training your employees undertake, it should be done with their (and your business’) best interests in mind - it’s not a one-size-fits-all activity.

Take the time to choose the correct training for your organisation, by understanding the key drivers and challenges. This will further your business case, and help you secure buy-in.

Want to learn more about mental health training?  Download our free guide here

Combine other methods beyond formal mental health training

For many businesses, mental health training may be seen as something completely new, that can’t be integrated into their existing training and development strategies. This means that even if employees complete mental health training, it becomes a “tick-box” exercise, where the skills learned aren’t applied on a day-to-day basis across the organisation because they aren’t followed up.

This often happens because mental health training is viewed as a solution to organisational problems, rather than the kick-off point for removing stigma, encouraging openness and embedding a more supportive culture.

Remember that mental health training isn’t the sole solution to your organisation’s problems. It is, however, an accelerator for change.

Training is useful because it can be very difficult to implement wider mental health support in the workplace without it. Mental health training gives you the tools needed to build the foundations for a more open workplace - but it’s down to your organisation to ensure these skills aren’t left unused, and that other tools are available to embed the learning and changes that training encourages.

To do this, you can utilise resources and activities you already have in place for other forms of training, giving touch-points for mental health beyond formal training.

For example, your organisation may already host team building days - why not incorporate mental health and wellbeing into these? If you currently hold 1-to-1 evaluations with employees, why not try focusing on the individual themselves, rather than solely assessing work output and performance?

You’ll be surprised at how easily traditional work exercises can be slightly tweaked to incorporate mental health, and how doing this can completely change the dynamic of your workplace. The more varied your approach becomes, the smoother the cultural shift will be.

Simply enrolling employees on a training programme won’t change your workplace - but incorporating wellbeing into all activities, and normalising conversations around mental health will.


Review all mental health support activities on an ongoing basis

If you’ve invested in mental health training, and implemented resources to ensure the skills learned aren’t forgotten, that’s great!

However, it’s essential that at every point throughout this process, you keep on top of training. As with all workplace health and safety procedures, it’s very likely that your organisational requirements will change, as will the needs of your employees. This means reviewing your mental health training strategy on a regular basis, and keeping engagement high.

This is a challenge. You will have to make changes, and continually update your training strategy to match the needs of your organisation and employees. And the magical cultural shift won’t happen overnight. However, by investing the time necessary to keep employees engaged, and tweaking your training every now and then, you’ll find that the overall change comes naturally.

To ensure your strategy stays fresh, consider conducting internal surveys on what is and isn’t working in terms of mental health support, and ask people across the organisation for their opinion. This will help you understand what issues are emerging, and find the best solution to address them.

Engagement is the most important factor. In order to see success from your mental health training strategy, you should incorporate it into ongoing learning and development programmes. This way, employees will see mental health as a part of their role, whether it’s supporting themselves or others.


Understand that promoting better mental health in the workplace is an ongoing process

As we’ve highlighted, your mental health strategy as a whole doesn’t have to be complex and elaborate - it’s the seemingly small changes that make all the difference. However, it does require a commitment to change.

The best starting point is to make the investment into mental health training - where you’ll acquire the skills needed to facilitate lasting, positive change in your organisation, with expert advice and assistance to do it effectively.

In our free guide, The Red Cross guide to mental health training, we highlight the importance of mental health training for organisations wanting to change, and offer advice on how to choose the best course for your individual needs. Simply click below to download, and see what training we have available.

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Topics: Mental health & wellbeing

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