As we kick off a brand new year, now is the perfect time to take stock and consider the key components that your organisation needs to positively support Equality, Diversity and Inclusion [ED&I] and to create a mentally healthy workforce.
Looking ahead, what plans do you have in place for 2024? How are you interlacing ED&I into all of your work and prioritising employee mental health and wellbeing?
In this article, we provide an overview of the must-haves for your 2024 ED&I and mental health checklist to create a better workplace experience.
It is safe to say that 2023 was an eventful year, marked by global challenges that significantly impacted our mental health at work.
While some businesses have adapted to post-pandemic hybrid working, we continue to live in turbulent times. Factors such as economic instability, the ongoing cost of living crisis in the UK, job insecurity and devastating global conflict can leave employees feeling stressed, worried and struggling to cope. Data from the mental health charity Mind indicates an increased reluctance among individuals to raise workplace issues or openly discuss mental health concerns.
Therefore, when resilience is low, prioritising mental health and having a strong ED&I strategy is imperative. Here are some actionable ways to do this:
(1) Embrace an intersectional approach to ED&I
The CIPD defines ED&I as ‘creating working environments and cultures where every individual can feel safe and a sense of belonging, and is empowered to achieve their full potential’. The legal framework, outlined in The Equality Act 2010, safeguards nine protected characteristics, which are age, disability, gender reassignment, being married or in a civil partnership, being pregnant or on maternity leave, race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin), religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
Yet, for an ED&I strategy to be a true success, organisations should adopt a more expansive view that goes beyond legal compliance. While resources such as policies that address bullying, harassment and discrimination and grievance and disciplinary procedures are essential, it is crucial to explore alternatives as well as procedural frameworks. This includes embedding ED&I into performance management frameworks and learning and development programmes, buy-in from senior leaders and key stakeholders and creating safe spaces and communications channels like forums and support groups for open discussions on ED&I and mental health concerns.
An intersectional approach to ED&I is pivotal in safeguarding the health and wellbeing of your most valuable asset – your people. This involves considering factors including accent, caring responsibilities, neurodiversity and socio-economic circumstances to create a more nuanced approach to ED&I.
You can find out more about intersectionality here.
(2) Promote positive mental health and wellbeing at work
There is a difference between ‘mental health’ and ‘wellbeing’.
As outlined by the World Health Organisation, mental health is ‘a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.’ Wellbeing, on the other hand, encompasses how we are feeling in our life and the different aspects; including work, socialising, relationships and our ability to navigate life’s highs and lows.
Positive mental wellbeing involves experiencing a sense of purpose, fulfilment and connection with others. Conversely, poor mental wellbeing at work, such as heavy workloads, unrealistic deadlines, poor management and challenging work relationships, can impact our emotional state.
Therefore, it is crucial to offer the relevant support to ensure people remain engaged, productive and motivated and to promote wellbeing at work. Effective strategies include regular communication, encouraging a healthy work/life balance, organising inclusive social activities and supporting flexible working arrangements.
(3) Cultivate an inclusive and safe culture
Promoting ED&I at the top sends a powerful message. Organisations must enlist the support of their senior leaders and leverage their influence to nurture a culture that is inclusive, respectful and transparent and where people feel genuinely listened to. One that prevents discrimination, eliminates harassment and tackles toxic behaviours at its core. Clear behavioural frameworks and a code of ethics should also be in place.
The CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey Report 2023, identifies that mental ill health is the top cause of long-term absence. Therefore, creating the right environment where people feel comfortable discussing mental health is pivotal. Facilitating an open dialogue, especially on topics that may carry a stigma, is vital to ensuring people feel supported. Initiatives such as launching campaigns and hosting workshops about mental health featuring external speakers, introducing mental health and stress check-ins and encouraging leadership to share their own mental health experiences or journeys can contribute to fostering a supportive culture.
(4) Have an open-door policy
Ensuring an environment at work where individuals feel comfortable raising concerns or formally reporting incidents of bullying, harassment or discrimination, stress, heavy workloads or discussing their mental health or wellbeing is vital. They should feel safe to do so without fear of being ridiculed or reprisal, and confident they will be listened to and supported. Common beliefs that might prevent people from discussing their mental health struggles include the fear of being seen as weak or a failure, concerns about discrimination and worries about the potential impact on their career.
Employers can play a crucial role in dispelling these misconceptions by normalising conversations about mental health at work. There should be multiple and clear communication channels available, including:
- Regular catch-ups or one-to-ones with line managers
- HR / People Team
- Employee Assistance Programme
- Confidential Whistleblowing Helpline (if available)
- Tell Jane’s anonymous reporting hotline
(5) Tailor health and wellbeing initiatives for the employee lifecycle
When planning your health and wellbeing activity, from policies and guidance through to line manager and awareness training, ensure there is a broad range of initiatives that support the diverse events an employee might experience in their work lifecycle.
While not an exhaustive list, consider employee support initiatives such as an Employee Assistance Programme with access to counselling and financial wellbeing support, health promotion initiatives like gym memberships, wellbeing days and healthy eating advice as well as insurance and protection initiatives like health cash plans and critical illness insurance.
It is important to support a wide range of health issues including menstrual health, fertility treatment, pregnancy loss and menopause transition and men’s health issues such as prostate cancer. Additionally, consider other life course issues such as child care, elder care, suicide risk, bereavement and chronic health conditions to ensure a holistic approach to employee wellbeing.
(6) Develop compassionate and capable line managers
While HR plays a multifaceted role in the ED&I strategy and in creating mentally healthy workplaces, line managers are at the forefront of creating a workplace free from bullying, harassment and discrimination and promoting good mental health.
They are the guardians of company culture and play a key role in supporting their team’s mental health; after all, they are responsible for workloads and managing performance and are the primary point of contact for seeking support, making adjustments and handling leave requests.
Training managers to role model good behaviours related to mental health, engage in empathetic conversations during regular 121s, spot early signs of poor mental health, implement necessary workplace adjustments and guide team members to specialist help can enhance their overall capability and skills. This not only boosts their confidence but also ensures they are well-equipped to create a safe and supportive environment for their teams. preventing employees from managing wellbeing issues on their own.
Integrating unconscious bias and microaggression training for line managers into the ED&I strategy can help alleviate risks to positive mental health. Coined in the 1970s by American psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce, the term ‘microaggression’ explains the subtle acts of discrimination experienced by individuals from marginalised groups.
Providing managers with the tools to recognise, disrupt and overcome microaggressions helps prevent potential damage to a person’s self-esteem and curb their inclination to overwork to keep up with their colleagues’ levels. This can have a hugely positive impact on their work life and their mental health.
In an increasingly demanding environment, maintaining good mental health at work and implementing an effective ED&I strategy is more critical than ever.
By laying the foundations, including championing wellbeing and positive mental health from leadership, cultivating an inclusive culture that fosters a sense