Creating a workplace culture that’s good for mental health

On 17 October 2019, Jon Neal, CEO of the charity Suffolk Mind was the guest speaker at our Risky Business Breakfast in Ipswich. Attended by 100 people from local businesses, Jon captivated the audience with his talk about creating a workplace that's good for mental health.

Here, Jon encapsulates the key points from his talk.

Research from Deloitte has shown a clear link between a positive workplace culture – from a mental health point of view – and the bottom line of any business. But how do you create a workplace culture that’s good for mental health? What does “good for mental health” even mean?

For us at Suffolk Mind, we think it means creating an environment in which employees are able to get their emotional needs met.

All of us have brains – we hope – and we’re all on the same mental health continuum, or spectrum. So we can all potentially cross over the stress threshold on that continuum from wellbeing into mental ill health. Statistically one in four of us, in any given year, will become stressed and then unwell with a mild or moderate mental ill health condition.

Stress comes about as a result of physical or emotional needs being unmet. Just as we have physical needs for food, drink, sleep and movement or exercise, we also have emotional needs. Workplaces are an environment in which we spend a lot of our waking time. So they are an environment that can either help or hinder us in getting those needs met.

The emotional needs are:

  • Control or autonomy over our lives, the design of our work, targets and objectives
  • Community, or feeling part of something bigger than ourselves; respect or
  • Status, which means receiving concrete feedback on our contribution to those communities we’re part of, feeling that we’re recognised for what we do
  • Security, feeling safe at home and secure in our jobs at work;
  • Achievement, being stretched or challenged, which is different to being stressed;
  • Emotional connection, which means having someone in our lives who accepts us, warts and all, for who we are;
  • Attention, both giving and receiving the right amount;
  • Privacy, being able to get time away from modern life’s many distractions, to calm down and be able to reflect; and
  • Meaning and purpose, being able to see how we’re contributing to the wider world, feeling that there’s a point to getting out of bed and coming to work.

Workplace barriers to good mental health

So a workplace where people are told what to do and not given much freedom to be creative and find solutions to challenges in their own way, could be a barrier to meeting the need for control and autonomy, and therefore a cause of stress. As could an office environment that’s open plan, where nobody can get away from colleagues to get their need for privacy met.

A great workplace for mental health and business

A great workplace, with a good culture, is one where everyone can see the relationship between their job and the overall meaning and purpose of the organisation. People have high levels of control, there’s a great community feel and people are connected to each other and will go the extra mile. It’s one where we go home on time, not staying late every night which might impact on our emotional connection with people at home. A workplace, in short, that’s an environment that enables people to get their needs met in healthy ways will lead to motivated, committed and trusted employees. And therefore better business.

Don’t take my word for it. Research from Deloitte shows the return on investment for creating a culture that’s good for mental health is 8:1. I reckon it’s probably more than that, but if you want to make a start, we’re happy to come and chat about it. Just email

Jon Neal, Chief Executive, Suffolk Mind | 07595 086152 | Twitter @jonneal_uk

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