Creating a healthy working environment

Creating a healthy working environment

The World Health Organisation defines a healthy working environment as: 'one in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace by considering the following, based on identified needs: 

  • health and safety concerns in the physical work environment
  • health, safety and well-being concerns in the psycho-social work environment, including organisation of work and workplace culture
  • personal health resources in the workplace
  • ways of participating in the community to improve the health of workers, their families and other members of the community.'

Supporting good mental health at work is a key aspect of an employer’s Health & Safety duties and most employers genuinely care about their staff's wellbeing, too. 

There are many areas of mental health that employers or learning providers can't control directly. There is, however, much that can help ensure that the workplace does not create or worsen someone’s mental health difficulties. That helps to support a culture of positive mental wellbeing amongst employees. 

What can you do as an employer or learning provider?

There are five main steps that you can take as an employer or learning provider to help create a healthy work environment.

1. Conditions

Promote healthy working conditions and work-life balance for your staff, where it is expected that people find balance between work and non-work time. Give clear messages about the importance of downtime and rest away from work. Other wellbeing measures are unlikely to have an impact if people are feeling overwhelmed by work or feeling they have no choice but to work very long hours. Some key ways to do this are: 

  • ensuring all staff are clear on roles and responsibilities
  • ensuring all staff have clear priorities and can speak freely if they are concerned about their workload
  • creating explicit plans for priorities that allow them to complete this in manageable ways (this is particularly important for apprentices who are having to balance work and studying for a qualification)
  • encouraging regular discussions about work-life balance and how people are experiencing stress at work 

2. Culture

As an employer you can create a culture where discussing mental wellbeing is normal and open. 

Young man smiling as he waters plants in garden

While much progress has been made in society about being open regarding mental health difficulties, many people still find it very hard to acknowledge that they are struggling. You can create a culture where managers regularly discuss mental health and demonstrate that mental health will be supported openly and compassionately, in the following ways:

  • Discuss the importance of mental wellbeing regularly in in-house communications, including practical strategies for supporting wellbeing
  • Encourage managers to incorporate discussions about workload and stress into meetings, with clear actions flowing from these to improve arising issues
  • Communicate that mental health difficulties will be treated with the same support and kindness as difficulties with physical health 
  • Educate managers about mental health conditions and signs to look out for
  • Support managers to have simple, caring conversations where they show concern about someone’s wellbeing

3. Assistance 

Providing an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is a great way to add a layer of quick and good-quality support to employees. Most EAPs allow employees to access support such as counselling quickly and confidentially. It is a great way to show your willingness to support staff and contribute to the overall message of wellbeing. 

4. Supporting people to access external wellbeing support 

As an employer you can help, but you can’t do everything if someone is struggling with their mental health. It is important that people can access other support easily without feeling it is going to cause problems at work. This could mean ensuring work or study is arranged so that people can attend GP or counselling appointments easily. 

5. Challenging stigma 

Attitudes to mental health have improved dramatically in recent years, but some attitudes can be judgemental or unkind about mental health difficulties. Workplace cultures can develop where mental health issues are mocked or judged. This can sometimes be viewed as harmless jokes or banter. The reality is that this can strongly contribute strongly to people not feeling able to ask for help and feeling worse about their experiences. 

Senior leaders should communicate a strong message that mental health difficulties will be treated with kindness and compassion. Ensure leaders are clear that judgemental and derogatory language or behaviours about mental health must not be tolerated.

Watch a short video about the impact of stigma in the workplace on the See Me Scotland website 

Read our useful guides

Cover of PDF file Mental Wellbeing - Support for Apprentices, showing a young man smiling at a work tableIn partnership with mental health charity Penumbra we have compiled four comprehensive guides to accompany this web resource. These two guides, for employers, will help you to support your apprentices' mental health at work. The two guides for apprentices can be found in our Mental Health resource for apprentices.

View PDF guide Mental Wellbeing - Support for Apprentices

View PDF guide Supporting Apprentices around Suicide and Self-Harm




Logo of mental health charity Penumbra

We are grateful to mental health charity Penumbra for providing advice and information on mental health for this resource. If any of your apprentices or other employees need support, you should encourage them to contact a GP or professional mental-health support organisation.

Find support organisations for mental health