Adrian Wakeling is a Senior Policy Advisor at Acas. In this post, he talks about the importance of positive mental health in the workplace.

Imagine working life as a machine. On the outside, it whirrs away most of the time and does what it does. But take a closer look, and on the inside, it is made up of so many individual cogs that it’s almost impossible to see how they all fit together.

Some of the cogs are very familiar to us. For example, Acas has been providing advice and guidance on things like pay, leave, and contracts of employment for decades. But the health crisis has thrown up new challenges – notably the sudden surge in homeworking and the additional responsibility of educating children and shielding the most vulnerable in society. The current priority, of course, is getting people back to work safely.

Acas has published new guidance on ‘Coronavirus and mental health at work’, because, quite simply, positive mental health is the oil that enables all the cogs to keep turning smoothly. [1]    

Our approach to mental health is based upon the belief that fighting stigma, developing positive coping strategies, and building ‘good work’ is a responsibility shared equally between the individual, the manager, and the employer.

The guidance, written by my colleague Nadege Preston and myself, has had 60k unique hits since its launch at the end of May. It has proved popular, but we knew we were on the right lines because we listened to our customers’ concerns. On our webinars about returning to work, people were saying:    

  • “I have been diagnosed with PTSD, depression & anxiety – can I be made to return to work?”
  • “I work in the social care sector and staff are understandably anxious about coming in to work. Any advice on how to support staff?”
  • “What can I do to look after my own mental health when I have to deal with so many staff issues?” 

The more we heard individual stories, the more Nadege and I were aware of common issues, such as:

  • As an employee how do I tell my manager about the huge stress and anxiety I feel about living with a highly vulnerable person?
  • As a manager how do I spot the signs that someone is not well when I can’t always see them?
  • As an employer how do I reassure my staff that I will look after their mental as well as their physical health?

A recent survey found that three-quarters of employers have seen an increase in requests for help with mental health and wellbeing since the crisis began [2]. But Acas’ own poll, carried out by YouGov, found that only 22 percent of employees have spoken to their manager about stress, anxiety, or mental health in the last 12 months [3]. This simply isn’t good enough. Together we can change perceptions, change attitudes and give everyone the confidence and skills they need to have those conversations. If you don’t take my word for it, then take the word of the World Health Organisation. They publicly endorsed our guidance as “very good”.


[1] 2020. Coronavirus and mental health at work. [Online] [Accessed 28/04/21]

[2] 2020. Three-quarters of employers see demand surging for mental health support during pandemic. [Online] [Accessed 28/04/21]

[3] 2020. Fear and trust in the evolving world of work. [Online] [Accessed 28/04/21]

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Adrian Wakeling, Senior Policy Advisor at Acas, talks about the importance of positive mental health in the workplace.

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