How to improve workplace mental health — 50 ideas for public servants

A global collection of practical ideas, initiatives and programmes for public servants

Welcome to Apolitical’s global collection of 50 practical ideas, initiatives and programmes that can contribute to improving the workplace mental health and wellbeing of public servants.

The importance of mental health is appreciated more than ever today, with studies showing that wellbeing interventions can boost productivity, improve workplace culture and even positively impact physical health. But this does not need to be a daunting task, as not all initiatives need to be time- and resource-costly.

With this resource, you’ll be able to:

  • Explore 50 practical ideas to improve public servants’ (and your own) wellbeing;
  • Learn different factors that can influence mental health; and
  • Get inspiration for how to make a positive impact on the mental wellbeing of your workplace.

Let us know if you have any initiatives you’d like to see featured in this atlas here!

50 of our favourite ideas

⭐ = Requires minimal resources
⭐ ⭐ = Requires some more advance planning and/or resources
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ = Requires longer term investment of time and resources

Organise a Learning Day on Mental Health and Wellness ⭐ ⭐

A learning day on mental health and wellness, like the one organised by the Canada School of Public Service, creates a foundation of knowledge on mental health in the workplace, and provides resources as well as a chance to build a support network of colleagues.

Allocate a Wellbeing Hour ⭐ ⭐

The Welsh Government is allocating an hour per week for employees to dedicate to activities that improve their mental or physical health. Learn more here

Create an Appreciation Tree ⭐

An Appreciation Tree (or Wall) is a place where staff can put written notes to thank colleagues for work they have done, which improves team morale by allowing everyone to feel valued and integral to the success of the team. Learn more here

Create a Physical Space for Mental Health in the Workplace ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace is an accessible, high-tech physical space for interactive discussions dedicated to mental health. Learn more here

Send out Wednesday Wellness Tips ⭐ ⭐

Each Wednesday Veterans Affairs Canada sends out via email wellness tips to inform employees on how they can nurture and foster a healthy work environment, and on how to promote and practice healthy work/life blending.

Create an Employee Assistance Programme to Manage Workplace Stress ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Santa Lucia successfully introduced an Employee Assistance Programme to support government workers through professional and personal challenges and to improve the wellbeing of employees by managing workplace stress. Learn more here

Create a Holiday Board ⭐

Holidays and leave are a really important part of wellbeing and work/life balance, so create a Holiday board for your team with little extracts from peoples holidays, such as a few pictures and highlights from their holiday. Learn more here

Organise a Volunteering Day ⭐ ⭐

Volunteering is a great way to do something for others and it also increases personal feelings of self-esteem, respect, motivation and wellbeing. Learn more here

Organise a Mental Health Skills Training for Senior Leadership ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Wellbeing Confident Leaders training equips Senior Civil Servants with the understanding and tools to integrate wellbeing into their workplace, because senior leaders are the key to transforming the organisation’s culture and building a positive work environment. Learn more here

Do Team-Building Exercises like People Bingo ⭐

Team-building exercises like People Bingo, which help people learn interesting facts about each other, are important for developing group skills, communication and bonding. See an example People Bingo sheet here, and learn more here

Organise a Let’s Talk Day ⭐ ⭐

Bell Let’s Talk Day is a Canadian initiative with the goal of creating a national conversation about mental health and driving action in mental health care, research, and the workplace. Learn more here

Organise a Coffee Roulette ⭐

Coffee Roulette (or Coffee Connect) is an informal and effective way for colleagues to build their network of contacts and improve closer working relationships, by facilitating informal coffee chats between colleagues working in different teams. Learn more here

Create Opportunities for Flexible Work Hours or Teleworking ⭐ ⭐

Flex time and telecommuting are quickly becoming more common and many organisations now have policies that allow employees to work flexible hours or from home one day a week, which increases productivity and work/life satisfaction. Learn more here

Watch a Mental Health-Focused Film like “This Is Me” ⭐

The film “This Is Me” was sponsored by the Civil Service Leadership Academy, and shines a spotlight on the different mental health experiences of five civil servants. Linked to the “this is me” campaign, it is the overarching film leading to five individual stories. Learn more here

Organise a Biggest Loser Programme ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development recruited two celebrity fitness coaches and launched “Biggest Loser, DSWD Edition” to emphasize the need for a healthy body to become better public servants. Learn more here

Use a Healthy Living and Wellness App like Carrot Rewards ⭐ ⭐

Carrot Rewards is a wellness app that allows Canadians to track health progress in exchange for reward points and receive tips in response to health questionnaires. Learn more here

Bring Plants into the Workplace ⭐

Bringing some green into the workplace can have several benefits. Many plants help with air quality, serve as a relaxing place to rest your eyes away from the computer screen, and spruce up a bland office space. Learn more here

Create a Cross-Government Mental Health Network ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

A Cross-Government Mental Health Network aims to connect networks to share best practice and promote mental health and wellbeing at work. Learn more here

Lead some Deskercise ⭐

Deskercise is exercise that can be performed throughout your workday, and that helps you to loosen up, stretch, and keep an eye on your posture in between work deadlines. Learn more here

Detox from Social Media ⭐

Spending a lot of time on Social Media increases feelings of loneliness and isolation in real life, and staying away from Social Media can improve your overall mood. Learn more here

Disclose your Story ⭐ ⭐

A support network is crucial, so find family members, friends, professional acquaintances and mentors you trust to speak with. Consider reading this guide on how to disclose your story from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Use Positive Affirmations ⭐

Positive affirmations are statements that when repeated can help you to overcome negative thoughts (e.g., “I am energised and ready to slay the day”), and by repeating your affirmations regularly you can start to increase positive thinking. Learn more here

Adopt a Mental Health Framework ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Ontario Public Service (OPS) launched the OPS Mental Health Framework to promote mental health in the workplace and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. Learn more here

Relax with the Piko–Piko Breathing Technique ⭐

Make some time in your day to just relax, by trying the Piko–Piko Breathing Technique at your desk, in your lunch break or even at team meetings. Learn more here

Use a Chatbox Counsellor like Dog Bot ⭐ ⭐

One of the Charity for Civil Servants’ most successful initiatives is “DogBot”, an interactive chatbox counsellor which connects people with suitable resources to address whatever concerns they may have. Learn more here

Organise a Mental Health Week like Get Loud ⭐ ⭐

In Canada, Mental Health Week has become synonymous with CMHA’s popular “Get Loud for Mental Health” campaign, where Canadians talk about mental health in their communities, on social media, and in the halls of power. Learn more here

Join a Workplace Mental Health Campaign such as I’m Not Myself Today ⭐

“Not Myself Today” is a workplace mental health campaign that helps companies build greater awareness, reduce stigma, and foster safe and supportive cultures through attention-getting material, turnkey activities, tools, and resources. Learn more here

Introduce Mental Health and Wellbeing Questions in your Employees Survey ⭐

The Canadian Government added mental health and well-being questions to their Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) to assess employee stress levels, identify stress factors and gauge the mental health of their employees and workplaces. Learn more here

Use Lunch Breaks to Improve Wellbeing ⭐

By having a break that allows you to get away from work and refresh your mind, you will be more productive and feel reinvigorated. Learn more here

Make an ‘A-to-Z Wellbeing Toolkit’ for your Team ⭐ ⭐

Team Chaffinch created a Wellbeing toolkit for individuals, teams and managers designed to “make wellbeing easy, fun and accessible for all”. It brings together all of the latest wellbeing information and that can be accessed in one simple and easy click. Learn more here

Create a Mental Health Learning Landing Page ⭐ ⭐

The Canada School of Public Service created an online web landing page to host all mental health learning solutions for employees. Such a central landing page allows employees to more easily find the resources they need. Learn more here

Take a Personality Test with your Team ⭐

Understanding that everyone is different can be one of the first steps to working together more effectively as a team, so take a team personality test to see what types of people make up your team. Learn more here

Create an Anti-Bullying Policy ⭐ ⭐

Bullying can negatively affect the mental health of employees, so it’s important to make sure that your workplace has zero tolerance of bullying. Learn more here

Offer a Supply of Healthy Snacks in the Workplace ⭐ ⭐

Healthy snacking can help us to focus and concentrate better at work, and boost our energy and mood. Learn more here

Keep a Sleep Diary for a Week ⭐

Sleep is important for your health, wellbeing and happiness, and a sleep diary (a daily log to record your sleep-wake pattern) can help make you more aware of what helps you sleep better and what doesn’t, so you can make positive changes. Learn more here

Adopt a Mental Health and Wellbeing Charter ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

As a pledge of their commitment to the mental and physical health of their employees, the Victorian government developed a charter with the objectives and actions that public sector leaders will take to improve mental and physical health in their workplaces. Learn more here

Create a Weekly Mood Journal ⭐

The Mood Journal is designed to help you trace and monitor your feelings – and if you use it consistently, you can get more insight into what affects your mood and how you can influence it. Learn more here

Sign up for an Online Learning Programme such as MindWell U ⭐ ⭐

Veterans Affairs Canada has invested in MINDWELL U, an online program integrating various mindfulness engagement tools into everyday living by way of a continuous mindfulness monthly challenge.

Implement Quick Wins ⭐

One of the barriers we often face when trying to focus on our wellbeing is time, and that’s why implementing quick wins (improvements that are easy to implement and quick to deliver) can be useful. Learn more here

Create a Speakers Bureau ⭐ ⭐

Employees of the Government of Canada created a roster of public servants that share their lived experiences with mental health, contributing to an open, stigma-free dialogue. Learn more here

Create a Team Bucket List ⭐

Create a bucket list with your team to identify personal and professional goals, to help staff to focus on their personal lives outside of work, whilst also balancing their day jobs and career progression. Learn more here

Host an Informal Conference Devoted to Mental Health ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs hosted an informal conference (or ‘Unconference’) devoted to mental health, that offered an open forum to discuss wellbeing and health. Learn more here

Organise a Walking Group ⭐

Taking a walk at lunch is fantastic for your mental health, so improve the wellbeing in your organisation by creating a walking group. Learn more here

Run a Wellbeing Training Programme like The Working Mind ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Working Mind is a training programme designed to promote wellbeing in the workplace and combat stigma against mental illness, through a combination of scenario-based learning, reference guides and resources. Learn more here

Participate in Yoga ⭐

Yoga is known to increase flexibility, build muscle strength, better your bone health, and much more. Do a short seated yoga at your desk, or go to a class with a colleague. Learn more here

Listen to a Mental Health-Focused Podcast like “Todd Lyons Podcast” ⭐

Public servant Todd Lyons explores in his podcast the human side of the Government of Canada, while addressing mental health issues. Learn more here

Organise a Wellbeing Camp ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

OneTeamGov organised a Wellbeing Camp, a conference with the goal to develop a deeper understanding about wellbeing and ask the burning questions that are often not vocalised in the workplace. Learn more here

Fundraise for a Cause ⭐

Evidence shows that helping others is actually beneficial for your own mental health and wellbeing, because it can reduce stress, improve emotional wellbeing and even benefit physical health. Learn more here

Allow Employees to Bring their Pets to Work ⭐ ⭐

Pets can be great for workplace mental health, because they benefit work/life balance, reduce stress and nurture productivity. Learn more here

And finally: Appoint (or Become) a Mental Health Champion ⭐ ⭐

A Mental Health Champion is someone who has a passion for mental health, and is willing to be the ‘face’ of the system by representing the vision, engaging employees at all levels, and raising awareness of the importance of psychological health and safety. Learn more here

Let us know if you have any initiatives you’d like to see featured in this atlas here!

(Picture credit: Unsplash/Sage Friedman)


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