Why Culture is Central to Managing and Supporting Mental Health at Work


How workplace culture impacts your employees

How does employees’ mental health impact their work?

How to identify weaknesses in your workplace culture

5 ways to improve the culture of your business

Ready to improve the culture of your business?


Why Culture is Central to Managing and Supporting Mental Health at Work

Think ‘company culture’ amounts to having a table tennis table in the break room, or implementing Dress Down Fridays?

Think again.

Company culture is incredibly powerful, and impacts everything from key business outcomes through to acquisition, retention and employee wellbeing.

Creating a strong company culture isn’t just about attracting and retaining the best talent—it’s also central to managing and supporting mental health at work.

How workplace culture impacts your employees

Your company culture refers to the attitudes and behaviours of both the organisation and your employees. It can be found in how people interact with each other, the values they hold and the decisions they make.

Your company culture will include multiple elements, including the working environment, your company mission and goals, leadership style, values and ethics.

Get company culture right and your employees will feel valued and be more engaged at work—and engagement is one of the key drivers of positive business outcomes:


How does employees’ mental health impact their work?

Awareness of mental health issues has never been higher, but that doesn’t mean organisations are getting better at supporting employee mental wellbeing.

Workplace mental health issues have been rising since 2010 and, understandably, spiked during the pandemic. In fact, nearly 1.5 million people were referred to NHS England’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme (IAPT) in 2020/21.

Mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety and depression have a big impact on an employee’s performance at work, and it’s not just in the form of absenteeism—although they do account for the majority of ‘lost days’ due to work-related ill health.

When we’re anxious or unhappy our productivity falls, we’re more fatigued and, ultimately, make poorer decisions. We’re also more likely to leave and search for a new role, with almost all HR leaders surveyed by Kronos in 2016 reporting ‘burnout’ as one of their biggest retention challenges.


How to identify weaknesses in your workplace culture

If your company culture contains weaknesses and is failing to support mental health at work, your employees aren’t going to thrive and help the organisation to achieve its objectives—but this can be hard to identify.

With this in mind, it’s important to be aware of the following ‘red flags’.

You’re unable to clearly describe your core values

Your core values should be the driving force behind the entire organisation, but take a moment to think whether or not you can define them. If you asked multiple employees from different departments would you get the same answers?

If the answer is no, getting these core values drafted, published and clearly communicated with the workforce should be your top priority.

Your core values are defined, but not followed by leadership

Of course, defining your core values is only half the battle—you need to make sure they’re being followed.

They need to be embodied by the whole organisation, but it needs to start with management and senior leadership.

If managers don’t follow the core values it’s unlikely their team members will either, and they may even become resentful and disengaged if they perceive there to be one rule for them, and another rule for leadership.

High staff churn

Unusually high staff turnover is almost always a sign of poor company culture. Exit interviews are really important here, as they can uncover the reasons for employees moving on and might just point to the root causes behind a weak culture.

Talent acquisition will be affected too, with 3 in 10 candidates turning job offers down due to negative online reviews. Find out more about the importance of company culture when attracting talent.

Working through lunch

Taking regular breaks is essential for employee wellbeing, so while an employee working through their lunch might show commitment, it’s also a massive red flag for burnout or that they don’t believe management condones breaks. Either way, this is a major sign that your company culture isn’t right.

Encouragement to take breaks needs to come directly from management, while employees overworking (either because they’re not taking breaks or putting in long hours) should be taken as a sign that something’s wrong that needs to be addressed.

How to spot the signs of workplace stress

Poor company culture will lead to significant workplace stress, but it’s essential for managers to be able to spot the signs early. According to a whitepaper produced by Mind, these include:

  • Working long hours without any breaks
  • Employees being set unrealistic expectations or deadlines
  • Negative relationships and/or poor communication
  • High-risk roles
  • Working alone

Mind’s whitepaper also highlights some of the biggest early warning signs of poor mental health, including physical, psychological and behavioural changes.

5 ways to improve the culture of your business

So how do you actually improve company culture and make sure you’re managing and supporting mental health at work?

Hire based on core values

Once you’ve identified what your core values are, you need to make sure you’re hiring people that can embody those values. With this in mind, build your interview process around them, making sure specific questions refer back to them in addition to asking about role-specific experiences.

It’s also worth adding a specific ‘cultural fit’ interview to the hiring process where candidates meet prospective colleagues—not just managers—to further ensure they’ll fit into the team.

Align your onboarding process with company culture

A strong onboarding process improves employee retention by 82%, but what is a ‘strong’ onboarding process?

Brandon Hall Group recommends that the onboarding process isn’t simply a week-long introduction, but rather a year-long programme to help new hires ‘feel acclimated and motivated to perform’.

Prioritise employee mental health

Employees won’t care about the organisation if they don’t feel like the organisation cares about them. With this in mind, it’s essential to prioritise employee mental health at work.

Key to this is cultivating a ‘caring’ culture, but what does this look like?

According to the British Psychological Society, the framework for a caring company culture includes:

  • Support and learning — effective line management and supervision; career advice; and providing access to wellbeing support. Furthermore, research has shown that having a clear progression path is essential for job satisfaction.
  • Organisational culture — tackling stigma, discrimination and bullying; cultivating psychological safety; and supporting mental health at work. Read our blog on ‘What it Means to be an Ally in the Workplace’ to find out more about building a culture that tackles discrimination.
  • Organisational interventions — a healthy working environment; Compassion Circles; and learning cycles.
  • Leadership and governance — compassionate and inclusive leadership; a wellbeing strategy; and effective communications.

Build mental health ‘check-ins’ into the regular one-to-ones managers have with their team. This is particularly important for remote workers.

However, be aware that sometimes employees will struggle to communicate mental health issues with people they know. An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can provide free, confidential mental health advice when it’s needed most.

Pay particular attention to remote employees

Don’t forget about the employees who aren’t in the office every day. It’s essential those working remotely permanently or in a hybrid role are kept up to date with everything going on, that they’re having regular check-ins with managers and the team, and that they’re provided additional help and support to perform the job to the best of their ability.

This is particularly important for new hires to ensure they settle in well.

Recognise success

The purpose of your company culture is to drive positive outcomes across the entire business, but this won’t work unless your culture has recognition at the heart of it.

A strong recognition platform can lower voluntary staff churn by as much as 31%, while they also make it 12x more likely your organisation will have ‘strong business outcomes’.

Recognition and rewards have also been shown to be key drivers of talent acquisition.

Bear in mind that simply handing out goodies doesn’t necessarily drive a positive company culture in the way you expected. You need to align your reward strategy with goals and objectives, as well as reward behaviour that embodies your culture.

Ready to improve the culture of your business?

As we’ve discussed in this blog post, company culture can have an impact on every aspect of your business, from talent acquisition and retention, through to productivity and profitability.

If you’re serious about improving the culture of your business, as well as managing and supporting mental health at work, you’re going to need support to ensure you’ve got all your bases covered.

Here at Sodexo Engage we’ve been helping organisations of all shapes and sizes transform their company culture, delivering award-winning solutions that help businesses prioritise the wellbeing of their employees.

No two company cultures are the same, and as such we don’t provide a one-size-fits-all approach. Our dedicated account managers will work with you to identify the perfect solution set for your business, whether that’s an EAP, comprehensive employee benefits platform, or employee incentives platform for maximising performance.

Ready to find out more about how Sodexo will help you to create a company culture that aligns with your business objectives? Get in touch with our exceptional team of employee engagement specialists.