Resources 5 min read

Less yoga, more work-life balance.


Alex Storer (he/him)



As we prepare to celebrate mental health awareness week, we would like to reflect on whether what most businesses are currently doing to build mentally healthier workplaces is really making a difference, or not.

This is of course a critical issue for organisations to tackle. Deloitte's analysis shows that poor mental health costs the UK economy between £74 billion and £99 billion a year, and according to the ONS 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions. So imagine who much your productivity would increase if good mental health in the workplace was supported in the right way!

From our research and insights, the three most popular initiatives in relation to mental health in the workplace are:

1) introduction of wellbeing policies
2) training for mental health champions
3) free yoga classes

Unsurprisingly, none of these are having the desired outcomes and employees still feel under pressure, feel their managers are unable to support them in the right way and, most importantly, feel that the lack of work-life balance negatively affects their mental health.

Last year alone, 12.7% of all sick leave days taken were in relation to poor mental health. Although employees are unlikely to be honest about that for fear of being stigmatised and therefore often declare back pain instead.

Such issues have little to do with policies and training and a lot to do with the overall workplace culture, specifically in relation to work-life balance. Most workplaces are unfortunately still affected by a long hours culture where performance is often measured on the basis of presence and time spent working rather than outcomes.

If the organisational culture doesn't foster an open dialogue on work-life balance and requires managers to have this dialogue as part of their day to day performance management, no amount of free yoga will change things.

Wellbeing policies are amongst the least implemented in workplaces as they are generally vague statements of good intentions but don't have enough teeth to shape behaviours and attitudes.

If you have one such policy, ask your HR team when was the last time the policy has been used. And while you're at it, also ask them if your organisation has ever offered free yoga or mental health training: if so, who attended those sessions? You will find that the majority of beneficiaries tend to be from HR teams themselves and have very little uptake from or impact on the wider business. This is in no way a criticism towards HR functions and more a reflection of the disconnect we often witness between the theory (i.e. all the great policies and initiatives) and the practice, where we see such policies and activities having very limited impact and failing to reach those in the business that would need it the most.

So if you do one thing for mental health awareness week, think about what would help you feel better supported, mentally healthier, and ultimately happier in the workplace, and when you have the answer share that with your manager. Their awareness of your needs is the foundation to build a better working relation.

And if you are a leader, ask your fellow members of your leadership team what is valued in your organisation and how you define good performance: are you, perhaps unintendedly, promoting a long hours culture where someone's performance is measured by the time they spend in the office rather than the actual quality of their work? Are you empowering your direct reports to have conversations with their reports about work-life balance in the context of performance reviews and appraisals? Are you role modeling a culture of openness and dialogue around mental health and wellbeing?

These are the questions that in our opinion should be answered before you consider doing anything else metal health related.

And if you do intend to organise anything for mental health awareness week, don't assume what your employees or colleagues might want. Ask them, and do it with an open, non leading questions. You might be surprised by the answers you'll get back!

So, if you thought that offering free yoga was enough to address poor mental health in the workplace, think again! Here are a few ideas that could help you get started:

1. Introduce conversation sessions with your managers to explain the importance of talking about mental health and work-life balance in 1-2-1s and appraisals;

2. Encourage your leaders to be open about their mental health: showing vulnerabilities will show all employees that it’s ok not to be ok;

3. Enable leaders, managers and all employees to role model behaviours that will foster a better workplace culture and will lead to a healthier work-life balance;

4. Introduce wellbeing related questions in your staff engagement surveys to ask employees what would help them achieve a better work-life balance; (and if you don’t run regular staff engagement surveys, definitely prioritise introducing one as soon as possible: we can help you with that too!)

5. Make use of days like mental health awareness, world mental health day, and others to promote open conversations throughout the business about the importance of looking after staff wellbeing!

Alex Storer

Author: Alex (Alessandro) Storer (he/him), Executive Director, Diversity Pride

Alex is an experienced inclusion and culture change practitioner. He specialises in behavioural change and inclusive leadership. He regularly delivers live online training sessions designed to minimise the impact of our unconscious biases and to develop more inclusive behaviours. For more information, please visit:

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