05 Mar 2024
by Sarah Wiseman

The perils of Mindless Mindfulness: How to actively support mental health

 A commentary on the state of mental health support in the tech industry and a guide to what employers can do to actively help their employees. 

Supporting employees’ mental health at work 

The tech industry is a notoriously high-stress one – regular news stories will discuss burnout, long hours and poor impacts on mental health. Questions have to be raised about exactly what it is that employers can do to mitigate and support their employees through this. Employers are expected to maintain and look after their employees’ physical health through ergonomic equipment and occupational health checks, but what can be done to support their mental health? Are there equivalent interventions and what responsibility does the employer have? 

The limited power of meditation and colouring 

A word that is now frequently used in the workplace and beyond is “mindfulness”. Not a trendy buzzword, but a term taken from ancient Buddhist teachings, adopted and often hugely reinterpreted for the modern day. These days, the concept of mindfulness is synonymous with meditation, yoga and even colouring books. Whilst mindfulness is undoubtedly an effective technique for many for managing their mental health anxieties, it is often used without thought by workplaces looking for a quick fix to help their employees process burnout and other work-induced burdens on their mental health. Such interventions are often met with scathing critical reception, and the practice of offering meditation sessions or guided wellness webinars to employees is regularly derided and turned into meme-fodder. 

Why should this be? The approach has been used successfully by many people to personally manage their own mental health. Why, then, when an employer offers structure mindfulness activities, is it perceived by employees as too small an intervention? I believe that the key issues here revolve around two points: 

  1. Active company support – Mindfulness approaches assume the problems exacerbating poor mental health in the workplace are solely the responsibility of the employee. They don’t acknowledge change that can happen within the organisation to better support mental health. An intervention implemented without company-supported time to focus on the wellness activity highlights an organisation that has not thought fully about what their part in the solution really is. 

  1. Ongoing support – Interventions such as webinars or yoga sessions are one-offs that cannot hope to support ongoing mental health issues that affect employees at work. Unlike physical ailments, mental health problems are rarely solved with a single treatment and require on-going support. 


An active approach to supporting mental health in the workplace 

In the first part of this blog, I described two points concerning mental health in the workplace: (1) a lack of support actively backed by the employer and (2) a lack of continual, ongoing support. 

To address these points, the first thing to do is create a work culture that acknowledges and welcomes conversations about mental health. As much as the stigma around acknowledging mental health issues is reducing, employers still need to actively promote discussions and awareness to highlight their stance. However, “awareness” is not enough. This must be supported by a willingness to be open to discussions with, and – crucially – feedback from, employees. Providing active and protected spaces and channels to have these conversations, and showing willingness to respond and react addresses the first point; it proclaims loud and clear to the employee: we understand that there are actions we can take to change our way of working. 

What can employers do to address the second point? Employers are not healthcare providers, and attempting to insert themselves into that position could be actively dangerous. Then what is the responsibility of the employer in this area? I believe it is up to the employer to understand their role as part of an employee’s support network. Whilst it may not feel immediately natural for someone to seek guidance or assistance from colleagues at work, the workplace can easily become a trigger for anxiety, meaning it is very possible for someone to need immediate support whilst in that environment. This leaves them with little choice but to turn to those around them. For this reason, one key action that employers can take is to ensure that staff who are willing are informed and prepared to act as a conduit to assistance, providing access to the many resources available outside of the workplace. And while doing so, do what they can to reduce the burden of navigating the administrative and social implications of seeking support. 

Examples of immediate and ongoing mental health interventions 

I am happy to work in an organisation that puts its people first and has made serious commitments to supporting employee mental health, and have witnessed first-hand the benefits that such an active approach can have. But how has the company achieved a welcoming culture for mental health discussions, and what active approaches can other organisations take if they are also serious about providing effective mental health support for employees?  

For one, the organisation explicitly names mental health has a valid reason for taking sick days. In addition to taking time off for a bad cold or painful migraine, employees understand that the company takes mental health seriously and acknowledges that rest days are appropriate in these circumstances too. Not only does this support employees who need to use sick leave in this way, it also is a clear indicator from the company that mental health is seen as important, and not an afterthought. 

In terms of ongoing care, there are a number of schemes in place within the company that promote support between colleagues. Here, I’d like to highlight some formal training that has been offered: a company-sponsored Mental Health First Aider training course. I was able to take the course and found it one of the most enlightening and useful pieces of workplace training I’ve ever done. I have used what I learned on the course at work to support colleagues, but also to support friends and family. I feel equipped to help others get support from the right places, whilst ensuring they feel heard and understood. 


By making active plans to assist employees and providing the time and resources to support them day to day, the company has created an open culture around mental health. They acknowledge that mental health issues can easily affect or be exacerbated by work demands, and understand that the company should be there for its employees. 


If you have been affected by any topics discussed in this post, the NHS mental health services site can guide you to resources to help you and your mental health https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/social-care-and-your-rights/how-to-access-mental-health-services/ 

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Sarah Wiseman

Sarah Wiseman

Senior User Researcher, Viable Data