How to Create a Wellness Programme | Mental Health Initiatives in the Workplace

As we adapt to new circumstances on a daily basis, dealing with challenges as they arise, managing the uncertainty that lies ahead, it is all too easy to push wellness, resilience and leadership training to one side.

However, it is at times like this that we need it more than ever. Not only are we all facing new challenges, we are seeing the dawn of a whole new way of working, which is here for the long-term, and we need to upskill now in order to manage and optimise the potential gains of that future.

Research shows that even if your organisation is facing hard times, seeing a downfall in revenue and considering redundancies, this may be the perfect time to focus and invest in wellbeing and mental fitness.


Michigan Ross Hospital is a perfect example of an organisation that saw this and reaped the rewards. They had a several million-dollar deficit and it was pretty clear that they were going to have to close their doors within six months, and, in doing so, losing hundreds of jobs.

Rather than cutting costs and pulling back from supporting their people, they invested in a Positive Leadership programme, headed up by fellow researcher Kim Cameron.

They started to integrate habits that focused on strengths and opportunities, rather than weakness, risk and defense. They integrated positive practices to cultivate trust, open communication and forgiveness, they maintained their standards of hard work and competitive mindsets but integrated this with compassion and collaboration.

In a few months, they were able to announce that they would not be closing the doors and they were soon named in Fortune’s “top 100 companies to work for” which they continued to uphold for a further 10 years.

Furthermore, they celebrated awards for “Leadership and Innovation in Patient-Centred Care”, “Premier Health Alliance Award for Quality” and “Distinguished Hospitals for Clinical Excellence”. And this is not an anomaly. There are countless examples including Microsoft and Prudential Financial Services.

So, now, more than ever, is the time to invest in the mental fitness of your business. Even if you don’t have a budget for investing financially, you cannot ignore the psychological wellbeing of your team.

We all have mental health, and the mental fitness of your team is already impacting productivity, engagement and morale.

It is what drives every decision we make, every interaction we engage in and when we have optimal mental fitness, challenges become opportunities so that individuals and businesses can thrive.

In fact, mental ill health accounts for 72 million working days lost and costs UK employers £34.9 billion each year. In short, our mental health is the foundation upon which business performance, staff loyalty and workplace resilience are built.

So, rather than pushing this topic down the agenda, here is a simple 3 step plan for you to roll out a wellness initiative today,

1. AWARENESS: Actions speak louder than words

Go beyond telling people that you are committing to supporting their wellness and resilience by sharing tools and resources that actually help them. Three ways to do this are

Regular newsletters

  • Adding to a regular internal newsletter or starting a fresh, use this to direct people to interesting reading, ted talks, websites that they can dip into at their leisure.

  • If you want to take it one step further, you can ask people from the organisation to contribute to this via anonymous blogs or short videos about what they do to optimise their wellbeing, what mental fitness means to them or what they have learnt during lockdown.

  • Try to avoid focusing on mental ill-health as this is only one aspect of our wellbeing. Consider the other key ingredients that cultivate positive mental health at work such as humour, kindness, learning and trust. Be creative with what media you use too, internal polls and nominations can help engagement and outcomes.

  • Some of the organisations I work with choose to do this on a weekly basis, others do this on a monthly basis. There is no “one-size-fits-all”: send them too often and people will delete them before reading, if they are too irregular then people will feel you are ticking a box and may miss the message all together. I recommend no less than once per month.

  • To help you get this started, take a look at some workplace mental health resources that you might want to share. You can then build on this as the weeks unfold.

Workplace mental health resources

Update your intranet or internal web page

  • In addition to the above, start to build a bank of information on your internal platforms. This can be as simple as a shared drive on a server or an interactive page on an intranet system.

  • Following the guidelines above, be creative and consider your audience. What do people want? What do people need most? Ask for feedback from team members and keep evolving this.

  • Additional things to include are details of your EAP (employee assistance programme), private insurance (if relevant), external wellbeing coaching services (if relevant), share resources, helplines, links to websites.

  • This does not have to take a huge amount of time. Just like wellbeing practices, commit a short amount of time each week, block it in your diary, and these small, consistent investments will quickly show an incredible return. Once you have your mental fitness ambassadors on board (see below), the pace will soon pick up.

Bring it into daily life

  • Online meetings make it harder to read people’s emotional and psychological state. This makes practicing emotional intelligence (a core component of good leadership) challenging but by no means impossible.

  • A simple way to start to do this is to begin each meeting with asking people how they are feeling on a scale of 1-10 (1 being low / 10 being optimal). This encourages people to think more deeply about how they are doing, beyond the standard “how are you?” “not bad” / “fine” response.

  • By doing this emotional literacy activity, you start to help calm the nervous system which will optimise learning and problem-solving. You also give them the chance to consider why they might feel that way, what they might need to do to manage this state or to share something that is on their mind, if they wish to do so. (Be wary not to force this in a group. Instead, consider a follow up one to one call if you think this is appropriate.)

  • If you are conscious that not everyone will feel able to share honestly, you can run this as an anonymous poll (an option which is available on most video conferencing systems).

  • This approach is a perfect first step to cultivating a more open and inclusive workplace. Enabling people to be honest about their wellbeing empowers people to address challenges before they become a bigger issue. (Learn more about emotional intelligence while working remotely here).

2. GROWTH: Upskill and empower your team

If you want to build a positive and resilient workplace, it is everyone’s responsibility, not just leaders. This is what leads to long-term, sustainable change.

Optimise leadership through knowledge sharing

Identify Activators

  • Debra Meyerson first coined the term Tempered Radicals to describe the activators in an organisation who navigate the fine line between challenging the ‘status-quo’ to inspire new ways of thinking and maintaining professional conformity. These individuals can influence others, regardless of their role or level in the team. All organisations have these individuals, who are yours?

  • Identify your Tempered Radicals or Mental Fitness Ambassadors who are going to drive your move towards building a positive and sustainable culture. Ideally these people are self-selected, however, never be afraid to ask someone to step up.

  • Be clear and honest about how much time each person can commit while maintaining their performance in their existing role. Even 1 hour a week can lead to great results in a short space of time.

  • Within this team, explore your values, opportunities, goals and priorities. What actions will demonstrate these values? What activities will support these? How will you deliver on these given the time you have available to commit? Ensure you set SMART goals which are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timebound.

  • Some ideas are: offering internal peer mentoring for new starters, running 30-minute lunch and learns or starting a personal development book or film club, building into the newsletter and intranet resource page (as above), running internal mental fitness or wellbeing challenges in teams, running Strengths spotting sessions in team meetings…. the list goes on. Feel free to get in touch for more ideas.

Get in touch

Build on previous initiatives & training

  • Identify what training and resources you already have in the team. Perhaps you have already got MHFA Mental Health First Aiders or a team member who has a Mindfulness qualification. Reach out and reflect on how you can empower these people to share their skills.

  • In many organisations, yoga and mindfulness sessions are run by employees who have completed these courses for their own interest. They have the chance to give something back to their team members, practice their art and invest in their community.

  • If you have already trained Mental Health First Aiders, perhaps they can run a short session to introduce themselves to the team, share some learning and answer any questions. You can access some questions here which might help you facilitate such a MHFA question and answer session.

Download MHFA – Q&A session

  • If you or other team members have completed other trainings, through the organisation or independently, which may help the wider team, consider how this can be shared. It could be simply asking someone for some books or podcast recommendations to add to the resources page or newsletter. Perhaps you have other ideas?

  • A Slack or internal messaging system is another way to share knowledge. Try starting a channel around this topic and see what emerges – you may be surprised by the knowledge that lies behind the video calls and emails.

3. INTEGRATION: Embed your wellness values into everyday behaviours

For long-term change you need to ensure that your plans are integrated into everyday habits and workplace culture. Here are a few tips to start that process.

Meetings matter

  • In addition to asking everyone how they feel on a scale of 1-10 (see AWARENESS above), other simple steps to start a meeting will optimise engagement, innovation and adaptability as well as supporting wellbeing.

  • Avoiding negativity for the first few minutes is a must. Leon Restaurants are a good example of a company who embedded this practice into their culture, demonstrating how quickly this can increase morale, performance and customer satisfaction. Instead of starting meetings with challenges you are facing, ask everyone what the highlight or big win of the week has been so far.

  • Adopting a Growth Mindset is fundamental for resilience, talent development and collaboration. Bring this into meetings by ending each meeting by asking; What have your learnt today?

  • Never stop learning. As a leader or manager, ensure you remember that you can learn from your team as well as your peers. Ask for feedback on your meetings; What went well for us today? What Strengths did we show? How can we improve next time? How can I support you to take the next steps agreed?

  • Cultivate focus by marking some days or times in the week when no one can schedule meetings. These ‘power hours’ and ‘focus days’ will enable people to get on with the work they need to do, undisturbed, optimising output and driving further motivation.

Everyone’s responsibility

  • While it is everyone’s responsibility to build a positive culture at work, it can take time for everyone to get on board with that mission, especially given the circumstances we all find ourselves in. Be patient, be compassionate to those around you who may be finding this time hard and remember that being a good team member is as much a part of any job role as any other function.

  • Embrace the old adage “be the change you want to see in the world”, taking the steps you can on a daily basis to build this culture. Simply asking people “what was the highlight of the day?” will cultivate a more optimistic mindset in those around you and have a ripple effect on their emotions and cognition. (This is called the simultaneity principle).

  • Work with your fellow ambassadors, ensuring you meet up regularly to explore ideas, support each other and unite your efforts. Collaboration is the key to success so use this network you have built.

  • In these sessions, ensure you celebrate the success you are having and progress you are making. Ask yourselves; What’s going well? What have we learnt? What can we do better? What one small next step we can take? (Remember those SMART goals).

  • Reach out for support; talk to friends, colleagues from other organisations and use social media to ask what others are doing to support their teams – exchange ideas, brainstorm next steps. Every interaction has the potential for learning.

What’s next

  1. You are already set to keep refining your existing plans, now you can start to think about moving forward to the next stage. This includes managing the uncertainty that lies ahead for all of us, and considering how you build on your success so far by expanding this to other parts of the organisation.

  2. Start by considering; What challenges will arise in the next 6-12 months? What opportunities do these hold for us? What do we need to do to mitigate risk, manage change and optimise the potential of these? How do we need to adapt or evolve?

  3. Explore what resources you have and which you need to develop; Who can you engage with from other teams or work streams? How can you build these resources?

  4. Consider this an on-going journey. I use a unique three stage process of AWARENESS, GROWTH, INTEGRATION. This enables us to assess and analyse where an organisation is today, their goals, KPIs and vision (awareness); build on these foundations to design, plan and roll out appropriate initiatives and interventions to enhance their resources and potential (growth); reflect and refine these so that we can embed mental fitness, resilience and sustainable performance into every level of the organisation (integration).

  5. This iterative process enables organisation to optimise their potential now, and continue to grow stronger each day. It cultivates innovation, collaboration and organisational resilience, enhancing engagement, staff loyalty and brand reputation.

Wherever you are with your wellness programme, there is always something you can do to take positive action in your workplace, virtual or physical. Don’t put it off because it seems too big a challenge, or it is someone else’s responsibility.

Break it down into small steps, take one day at a time, do what you can and recognise your achievements. Many of the clients I work with started out as a conversation about one person’s vision to transform their workplace, we started small with no budget and worked from there.

Now, two or three years, these organisations have demonstrated how investing in mental fitness consistently can drive productivity, boost staff morale and retention, turning the workplace into a health-enhancing and performance-enhancing environment.

If you want to learn more or get your programme into action, please be in touch. I am always happy to offer advice and hope that this is the catalyst that inspires you to take action.

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Reading list

Resources and Tools


Cameron, K. S., & Lavine, M. (2006). Making the impossible possible/ Leading extraordinary performance – The Rocky Flats story. San Francisco; Berrett-Koehler.

Cameron, K., & Plews, E. (2012). Positive leadership in action:: Applications of POS by Jim Mallozzi, CEO, Prudential Real Estate and Relocation. Organizational Dynamics41(2), 99-105.

Ibarra, H., Rattan, A., & Johnston, A. (2018). Satya Nadella at Microsoft: Instilling a growth mindset. Harvard Business Review case no. LBS128 (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Bailey, T., & Dollard, M. (2019). Mental health at work and the corporate climate: implications for worker health and productivity. Asia Pacific Centre for Work Health and Safety.

Gubler, T., Larkin, I., & Pierce, L. (2018). Doing well by making well: The impact of corporate wellness programs on employee productivity. Management Science64(11), 4967-4987.

Bubonya, M., Cobb-Clark, D. A., & Wooden, M. (2017). Mental health and productivity at work: Does what you do matter? Labour economics46, 150-165.

Grawitch, M. J., Ballard, D. W., & Erb, K. R. (2017). Work and Wellbeing. In Cooper, C. L., & Leiter, M. P. (Eds.). (2017). The Routledge companion to wellbeing at work (pp. 249-268). London: Taylor & Francis.

Liao, H., & Chuang A. (2007). Transforming service employees and climate: A multilevel, multisource examination of transformational leadership in building long-term service relationships. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 1006–1019.

Hudson, P. (2013). Mentoring as professional development:‘growth for both’mentor and mentee. Professional development in education39(5), 771-783.

Kennett, P., & Lomas, T. (2015). Making meaning through mentoring: Mentors finding fulfilment at work through self-determination and self-reflection. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring13(2), 29.

Anthony M. Grant (2014) The Efficacy of Executive Coaching in Times of Organisational Change, Journal of Change Management, 14:2, 258-280, DOI:10.1080/14697017.2013.805159

Mavrinac, M. A. (2005). Transformational leadership: Peer mentoring as a values-based learning process. portal: Libraries and the Academy5(3), 391-404.

The Positive Potential of Tempered Radicals (2008).  With R. Quinn.  Chapter in The Virtuous Organization:  Insights From Some of the World’s Leading Management Thinkers,K. Cameron, C. Manz, and K. Manz (eds.). Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific Publishing.

Haynes, B. P. (2007). Office productivity: a theoretical framework. Journal of Corporate Real Estate.

Gesell, I. (2007). Time travel: The myth behind the allure of multitasking. The Journal for Quality and Participation30(4), 22.

Kremers, J. (2012). The syntax of simultaneity. Lingua122(9), 979-1003.

Achor, S. (2018). Big potential: How transforming the pursuit of success raises our achievement, happiness, and well-being. Currency.

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